Dr. Carter G. Woodson was a self-proclaimed radical. Born the son of slaves in 1875, Woodson carried with him deep-seated anger over the long-held practice of denying Black people, especially in the South, the opportunity to learn to read and write and secure to formal education. Despite his inability to attend school at an early age, Woodson persevered and taught himself enough to master basic subjects. He entered high school at age 20, went on to graduate from college and later became the second African American to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard University.
Woodson, who became a teacher and taught in the D.C. public schools, is best known as the Father of Black History. More significantly, he established Negro History Week, which is now a monthlong commemoration in February.
But Woodson didn’t trust the American educational system. He articulated his beliefs in his book, “The Mis-Education of the Negro,” where he decried the white-washed teachings that were devoid of any mention of the significant achievements or contributions made by Black people throughout history. He knew it to be intentional and proffered: “When you determine what a man shall think you do not have to concern yourself about what he will do. If you make a man feel that he is inferior, you do not have to compel him to accept an inferior status, for he will seek it himself.”
Woodson believed, “The mere imparting of information is not education,” and he set out to educate a nation about Black history and culture until he died in 1950.
Yet, to the dismay of many who continue Woodson’s work of researching and studying Black history and culture, his name remains unfamiliar in many African-American households. The Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), the organization Woodson founded 105 years ago, still carries on his work today, including the annual publication of the Journal of African American History, which he started publishing in 1916.
Woodson’s declaration of a week dedicated to teaching Black history was only a symbol of what he wanted a Black child or adult to learn about themselves every day. We need more “radical” teachers like Woodson, educating children about the untold stories of African-American “hidden figures” past and present in our classrooms today!