Carter G. Woodson, the Father of Black History
Every February, the President of the United States issues a statement that speaks of the important contributions of African Americans to the progress of the nation and the world. Thus, Black History Month begins. Official recognition of Black History Month began in 1976, but its origins go back much further, before desegregation and the dismantling of Jim Crow laws.
Carter G. Woodson was born in 1875 to former slaves. Ambitious and intelligent, Woodson became only the second African American to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard University (W.E.B. Du Bois was the first). Dr. Woodson was dismayed by the lack of accurate written history about the experiences and contributions of Americans of African descent, so in 1915, he and his associate Jesse Moorland founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH) “to promote, research, preserve, interpret, and disseminate information about Black life, history, and culture to the global community.”
The ASNLH published The Journal of Negro History (now called The Journal of African American History) and the Negro History Bulletin (now called the Black History Bulletin). The association also sought out and provided historical research material and educational aids. In 1925, the ASNLH announced “Negro History Week,” planned for the second week of the following February. They chose the second week of February because it coincided with the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln, two seminal figures in black history in the United States.
Negro History Week grew in popularity among both African Americans and progressive whites, and over the coming decades, it garnered the endorsement of many mayors as a holiday. In 1976 — 200 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, 100 years after the birth of Carter Woodson, and 50 years after the first Negro History Week — President Gerald Ford released a statement proclaiming February as National Black History Month, noting that
The last quarter-century has finally witnessed significant strides in the full integration of black people into every area of national life. In celebrating Black History Month, we can take satisfaction from this recent progress in the realization of the ideals envisioned by our Founding Fathers. But, even more than this, we can seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.
Every U.S. President since has issued a statement marking February as National Black History Month — but it isn’t just an American holiday anymore. The United Kingdom began officially recognizing Black History Month (in October) in 1987. In Canada, the House of Commons officially recognized February as Black History Month in 1995, and the Senate followed suit in 2008.
For his efforts, ambition, and perseverance, Carter Woodson has come to be known as the Father of Black History, and he is now honored every February — along with Douglass, Du Bois, Martin Luther King, Jr., Gwendolyn Brooks, and so many others — during the month-long celebration that he helped create.
If you’d like to find out more about Carter Woodson and Black History Month, check out African American History For Dummies.