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Carter G. Woodson (1875-1950): the father of Black history

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Learned author: Carter G. Woodson

In acknowledgement of Black History Month, The Royal Gazette continues the publication of stories throughout February on African-American, Black Bermudian and global African people, events and institutions, and their contributions in history

Historian Carter G. Woodson was born to poor, yet landowning, former slaves in New Canton, Virginia, on December 19, 1875. During the 1890s, he hired himself out as a farm and manual labourer, drove a garbage truck, worked in coalmines, and attended high school and college in Berea College, Kentucky — from which he earned a Bachelor of Laws degree in 1903. In the early 1900s, he taught Black youth in West Virginia. From late 1903 until early 1907, Woodson worked in the Philippines under the auspices of the US War Department. Woodson then travelled to Africa, Asia and Europe, and briefly attended the Sorbonne in Paris, France. In 1908, he received an MA degree in History, Romance languages and Literature from the University of Chicago in Illinois. In 1912, while teaching in Washington, he earned his doctorate in history from Harvard University.

Carter G. Woodson (Photograph courtesy of West Virginia State Archives)

In 1915, Woodson published his first book, The Education of the Negro Prior to 1861 and cofounded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. In 1916, he single-handedly launched The Journal of Negro History (now The Journal of African American History). In 1918, Woodson published A Century of Negro Migration and became the principal of Armstrong Manual Training School, in Washington. From 1919 until 1920, he was the dean of Howard University’s School of Liberal Arts and from 1920 until 1922 he served as a dean at West Virginia Collegiate Institute. In 1921, he published The History of the Negro Church and founded the Associated Publishers, Inc. After founding the ASNLH, he also became active in Black organisations such as the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People, the National Urban League, the Friends of Negro Freedom, and the Committee of 200.

In 1922, he published the first edition of his popular The Negro in Our History and decided to commit his life’s work, routinely labouring 18 hours per day, to the ASNLH and the early Black history movement. On July 18, 1922, he purchased a three-storey, late-19th century Italianate-style row house in Washington, located at 1538 Ninth Street, NW, which became his personal residence as well as the office for the Associated Publishers, Inc and the national headquarters of the ASNLH. During the 1920s, Woodson received tens of thousands dollars from several White philanthropists to fund the ASNLH’s various activities. In 1926, he launched Negro History Week. By the early 1930s, Woodson relied upon Black communities throughout the country to maintain his organisation’s activities. In 1937, he created The Negro History Bulletin mainly for children and schoolteachers and throughout the 1930s and 1940s Woodson spoke at countless elementary and high schools, Negro History Week events, and at the graduation ceremonies for many historically Black colleges and universities. Once in Detroit, Michigan, in February 1935, he addressed “more than three thousand persons”.

The Carter G Woodson statue in Washington

During the 1930s and 1940s, Woodson wrote several hundred essays in leading Black newspapers such as the New York Age, the Pittsburgh Courier from Pennsylvania, the Afro-American from Baltimore, Maryland, and the Chicago Defender. In 1933, he published The Mis-Education of the Negro. Though he wrote, co-authored, and/or edited more than twenty books, this is his most famous and enduring book. Woodson, a member of Sigma Pi Phi fraternity, died suddenly from a heart attack in his “office home” on April 3, 1950. Woodson was 74 at the time of his death. He never married and had no children. Deservingly dubbed “The Father of Black History”, he was, simply put, a Black history institution builder.


Pero Gaglo Dagbovie, The Early Black History Movement, Carter G. Woodson, and Lorenzo Johnston Greene (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2007); Jacqueline Goggin, Carter G. Woodson: A Life in Black History (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1993); and Pero Gaglo Dagbovie, “Willing to Sacrifice”: Carter G. Woodson, the Father of Black History, and the Carter G. Woodson Home (Washington: National Park Service, 2010)

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Published February 01, 2023 at 7:57 am (Updated February 01, 2023 at 1:12 am)

Carter G. Woodson (1875-1950): the father of Black history

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