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Meet Carter G. Woodson, the man behind Black History Month

Black History Month was born out of Woodson's recognition of the lack of Black representation in American history textbooks.

Meet Carter G. Woodson, the man behind Black History Month
Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

As we celebrate another Black History Month this February, it is important to remember why we have a month dedicated to learning about Black history. The celebration is the result of Carter Godwin Woodson's hard work and persistence. A son of former slaves, Woodson went on to become one of the most prominent figures in the study of African American history. He took on the challenge of writing the stories of Black folks into the history of the United States after identifying their stark lack of representation in American history textbooks. His work established the foundation for Black History Month, CNN reports.


Early life

Woodson spent much of his childhood working in coal mines and quarries. The only formal education he received was during the four-month term that was customary for Black schools at the time. Much of the knowledge he gained was self-taught. He taught himself arithmetic and English fundamentals. At the age of 19, he successfully entered high school. There, he completed a curriculum that would have taken the average student four years in half that time. Following this, he enrolled in a master's program at the University of Chicago, where he earned a graduate degree in history. He went on to earn a doctorate from Harvard.


The beginnings of Black History Month

The prominent historical figure recognized that history books largely ignored the history of Black folks in the United States. He was thoroughly disturbed by the fact. Therefore, he took on the challenge of ensuring that the lived experiences of African Americans were documented and more easily accessible. In order to this, he founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. Through the association, he also established the widely respected Journal of Negro History. Then, in 1926, Woodson engineered the idea of "Negro History Week." In his words, "the achievements of the Negro properly set forth will crown him as a factor in early human progress and a maker of modern civilization." Five decades later, in 1976, the week was extended to month-long celebrations thereon known as Black History Month.


Why did he pick February?

Of all the months in a year, Woodson chose to hold Black History Month in February because it is the month when the birthdays of two men who greatly influenced Black American folks are celebrated. These two men are Frederick Douglass and former President Abraham Lincoln. The former, Douglass, escaped slavery and went on to become an abolitionist and civil rights leader. While his official date of birth remains unknown to this day, it is celebrated on February 14 every year. Meanwhile, the latter, Lincoln, was pivotal in signing the Emancipation Proclamation. This legislation officially abolished slavery in America's confederate states. His birthday is celebrated on February 12.


Although many are unfamiliar with Woodson and his work today, he has been named the Father of Black History for his contributions. In the year 2002, leading African American scholar Molefi Kete Asante even named him on his list of 100 Greatest African Americans. As we celebrate Black History Month 45 years on, it is important to remember Woodson and his revolutionary body of work.


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