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Dr. Carter G. Woodson: Historian, Publisher, Pioneer

Dr. Carter G. Woodson

At a time when no one cared about documenting African-American contributions to the world, Carter G. Woodson did, and he became known as the “Father of Black History.” Born in 1875 into a large family of former slaves in Virginia, Woodson was not able to attend school regularly as a child - he was needed to help on the family farm. Even though neither of his parents could read or write, he credits his father’s influence with shaping his life. His father said, “Learning to accept insult, to compromise on principle, to mislead your fellow man, or to betray your people, is to lose your soul.”
In his youth, Woodson was largely self-taught, but that never discouraged his desire for knowledge. He, and one of his brothers, moved to West Virginia with the hope of attending Douglass High School, but he had to earn a living as a miner. As a result, he was only able to go to school a few months out of the year. In 1895, at the age of 20, he officially enrolled in high school and graduated in two years. From there, he got a B.A from Berea College, a master’s from the University of Chicago, and a Ph.D. in history from Harvard in 1912. He was the second African American to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard.

During his studies and travels, Dr. Woodson developed his own philosophy on history. He felt that history is not the mere gathering and reporting of facts. He believed history must also include some social context of the period being studied.

Dr. Woodson is credited with staring many traditions and publications that live on today. The Association for the Study of Negro Life and History was founded by him and his colleagues in Chicago. In 1916, he published the first issue of the Journal of Negro History. It is still published to this day and is one of the oldest scholarly journals in America. In 1926, he developed Negro History Week, the precursor to Black History Month, which is why he is credited as “The Father of Black History.”

On the day of his death in 1950, Dr. Woodson was working on a six volume “Encyclopedia Africana.” His devotion to learning, history, and the advancement of African Americans was undying.

“Those who have no record of what their forebears have accomplished lose the inspiration which comes from the teaching of biography and history.” -- Dr. Carter Godwin Woodson