Carter  G.  Woodson

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Who was Dr. Carter G. Woodson?
  • Launched Negro History Week in 1926, chosen in the second week of February between the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln, which evolved into Black History Month in 1976
  • Known for writing the contributions of black Americans into the national spotlight, received a Ph.D at Harvard University
  • Founded the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History in 1915, founded the Journal of Negro History in 1916
  • Author of the book, "The Miseducation of the Negro", published in 1933

  To learn more about Dr. Carter G. Woodson, visit your local library, or research about him over the Internet.

"When you control a man's thinking you do not have to worry about his actions. You do not have to tell him not to stand here or go yonder. He will find his "proper place" and will stay in it. You do not need to send him to the back door. He will go without being told. In fact, if there is no back door, he will cut one for his special benefit. His education makes it necessary."
                                                           -- Dr. Carter G. Woodson, "The Miseducation of the Negro"

"The Negro History Bulletin", started by Carter G. Woodson, the creator of the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History in 1915. Pictured issues are from 1942-1948, prior to Woodson's death in 1950. The above issues are from The Freeman Institute Black History Collection.


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The Torch is Ours


  Carter G. Woodson (born 1875). Convinced that the history of African-Americans was being ignored and misrepresented, took steps to put things right. In 1915 Woodson founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, now the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH). The association was created to promote and preserve African-American history and culture. He founded the Journal of Negro History in 1916.


  He spent his life investigating, documenting and publishing African-American history.  He died suddenly of a heart attack on April 3, 1950 in Washington, DC, before realizing his ambition of publishing the six-volume Encyclopedia Africana.


  The thirty-fifth Annual Meeting of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History took place in Atlanta, October 27, 28, 29, 1950. It was the first meeting that Dr. Woodson had not called to order, just six months after his death.

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  An Advisory Committee consisting of the Presidents of Atlanta University, Spelman College, Morehouse College, Clark College, Morris Brown College and Gammon Theological Seminary made evident the interest of these institutions in the work of the Association. The opening meeting in Sisters Chapel, Spelman College, was a memorial to Dr. Woodson. President Florence M. Read, presiding, extended a warm welcome on behalf of Spelman College. In the absence of Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, President of the Association who was delayed by the late arrival of her plane, Dr. Logan read her paper, “The Torch is Ours.” Here is the transcription of that speech.


The Torch is Ours


   We are assembled here, today, members and followers of the Association founded thirty-five years ago. As the outgrowth of the great thought conceived in the fertile mind of Carter Godwin Woodson – eminent scholar and great American – who came up from the coal mines of West Virginia, and the border country of old Berea College, through the classic halls of Harvard, in preparation for his great service.


   The unfolding of his ideas – the implementation of his ideas – during these thirty-five years, has not been an easy task. The road has been very rugged. The awakening of the darker peoples of America and the world, to the importance of an historic knowledge of their backgrounds, has called for unshakable faith and persistence and unflinching sacrifice.


   The results of Carter Woodson’s efforts and of those who have journeyed with him over this rugged road, have vindicated the soundness of his thinking. These results are established in the factual findings of this Association, as they come into increasing use in institutions of learning, and among scholars and students of social progress all over the world. These results demonstrate the necessity for the vigorous and continued growth of this organization, the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, which stands, today, as the Master Key to the background of the world of color.


   My heart and my mind are deeply moved by the memory of Carter Woodson – an American of my own age and generation – who came from the same plain people, close to the soil; who spent his life unearthing and recording the proud and stimulating story of their heritage, for the inspiration of present and future generations, and as a guide to contemporary living.


   His was a great, humanitarian task, nobly and unselfishly undertaken; sturdily and effectively performed. But it was a continuing task. It was the kind of task initiated by great minds which they, themselves, may never hope to see completed – a task which must be left for fulfillment to succeeding generations of workers, lighted on their way by brightly burning fires, kindles from the torch of the leader.


   When Carter Woodson passed on, last April, he left behind the strongly burning torch of his hard-won and ever-increasing knowledge of our past, and his courage and steadfastness in adhering to the truth. He struck that torch high into the crevice of between the rock of prejudice and discrimination – a crevice forced by the growing pressure of the facts assembled and sent far and wide by this Association. It was forced by the strength of the facts that have given to us who are of Negro origin, a firm foundation of pride in a past which has contributed greatly to the forward march of civilization. It was forced by the strength of the facts that have opened in a new respect the eyes of many who have scorned or pitied us as a people without a past save that of savagery and slavery.


   So, as we gather here, today, in our first annual meeting held without his stimulating presence, let us put our minds to the task of keeping his torch forever burning – an eternal light moving ever higher for all men to see – finding and inscribing for history the records of a race; lighting the path to the future with the incentive of a racial heritage of our high achievement. This must be the measure of our devotion to the shining spirit of our leader who has placed his torch and has gone before – to rest.


   His Association – the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History – will not fail to take up the challenge of that flaming torch. The great fraternity of its membership and friends will not fail. I know that all who are of it stand ready, today, to step forward in support of the cause to which Carter Woodson dedicated and gave his life.


   Let us thank God for him today, as we close ranks and move forward to take our next step with the might of established facts behind us – ever-searching out new and worthy accomplishments from the dark recesses of time; ever recording what is of great merit in our contemporary life that slips away so swiftly, to become history with the passing of the hours.


   We must relight our own torches from Carter Woodson’s bright flame, and continue the search for the sustaining truth; continue to spread the truth far and near, until we, in our turn, shall pass his saving light, undimmed, into the waiting hands of posterity.


-- Mary McLeod Bethune



     The Journal of Negro History, January, 1951, pages 9-11.

     Founded by Carter G. Woodson

     Edited by Rayford Logan



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W H Y   B L A C K   H I S T O R Y   M O N T H?

By Sean Gonsalves -- Woodson, whose best-known book "The Miseducation of the Negro," was born in 1875 in Buckingham County, Virginia. The son of former slaves, he worked in mines and quarries until the age of 20 when he decided that his mind would be a terrible thing to waste -- long before the sentiment became a slogan for the United Negro College Fund.

  Woodson received his high school diploma at the age of 22 and went on to get a master's degree in history from the University of Chicago. In 1912, Woodson received a doctorate in history from Harvard.

  Unable to land a teaching post at the elite university because Harvard wasn't hiring black professors, Woodson went to teach at one of the nation's leading black colleges, Howard University.

  In 1915, Woodson became the director of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. A year later he was named editor of the association's scholarly quarterly, "The Journal of Negro History."
  Woodson believed the study of black history, using the tools of scholarly research and writing, could serve a dual purpose. It could be used to counter white racial chauvinism, which was used to rationalize the oppression of black people in America.

  The distortions and deletions in the American historical record as it pertains to race matters, Woodson believed, was detrimental to the health of a nation whose inherent promise is life, liberty and justice for all.

  Perhaps more importantly, Woodson knew that in a society where black intelligence and moral worth is incessantly demeaned and devalued, studying black history would serve as a psychological defense shield for black students against the assaults of white supremacy.

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  So he embarked on a quest to establish a national celebration of black heritage. In 1926, Negro History Week was born.

  "Besides building self-esteem among blacks, (Black History Week) would help eliminate prejudice among whites," Woodson concluded.

  It wasn't until after the civil rights movement of the 1960s that Black History Week was taken seriously outside of the educated black community and expanded into Black History Month.

  February was chosen as Black History Month because the birthdays of the esteemed black abolitionist Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln fall during that month. It's also the month the NAACP was founded. It just so happens that February is the shortest and one of the coldest months of the year.

  So how come there is no official White History Month? In the words of a Tulane University Black History Month Web site, "a White History Month is not needed because the contributions of whites are already acknowledged by society. Black History Month is meant to remedy this inequity of representation."

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  Of course, if standard U.S. history curriculum did a better job of teaching both the tragic and triumphant aspects of the expansion of democratic freedoms on this continent and its inextricable link to Americans of black African descent, then a Black History Month would be wholly unnecessary.

  But when educated Americans at the dawn of the 21st century make statements like: My grandparents were immigrants who faced discrimination and made it. Why can't blacks? All societies had slaves. Besides, some blacks were sold into slavery by black Africans -- it's clear to anyone familiar with the history of white-skin privilege in America that Black History Month has not outlived its usefulness.

  This isn't to deny the importance of individual initiative or to lay a guilt-trip on white brothers and sisters for every failure in the black community. On the other hand, black social mobility, (or lack thereof) cannot be understood without understanding the devastating impact of not only two centuries of slavery but a hundred years of organized, state-supported attacks on "free" black communities after slavery.

  For sure, there have been many blacks who have overcome the odds, which is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit. But those blacks who have "succeeded" did so in spite of white-skin privilege; not because of it.

  Instead of asking why can't blacks make it -- a grossly imprecise question that ignores the significant achievements of thousands of African-Americans -- we'd do better to ask: what obstacles have impeded the economic, political and social development of many black Americans? To candidly answer that complex question, the study of black history is inescapable.
                                                                                                                            -- An article published by The Black World Today


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20 documents & artifacts from The Freeman Institute Black History Collection were showcased.
More items from the Collection are exhibited behind the walls.

Dr. Freeman at the United Nations "Transatlantic Slave Trade" Exhibit.
Twenty documents & artifacts from The Freeman Institute Black History Collection included.




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