Carter Woodson grew up in Virginia, moving to West Virginia at the age of 17 to attend high school. He worked as a coal miner while he studied part-time, eventually becoming a full-time student and graduating in 1897. He became a teacher and school administrator, later earning two college degrees from the University of Chicago and a doctorate from Harvard.
As a historian, Woodson established the Association for the Study of African American Life and History while advocating for the intentional and accurate teaching of African American and Black history, achievements, and accomplishments. And in 1926, he and other historians pioneered “Negro History Week” to encourage the telling of these stories beyond the lens of a Eurocentric perspective:
“For centuries we have been the victims of propaganda; and as long as the truth is denied a hearing there will always be strife among the members of the human family, and disorder like the present in which the world now finds itself will always be possible.”
This truth, Woodson claimed, was
“overlooked, ignored, and even suppressed by the writers of history textbooks and the teachers who use them.”
Fifty years later, following the example of Black students at Kent State University, President Ford would establish Black History Month.
The hope was that Black History Month would provide a very intentional time for all of us to learn together the contributions, challenges, and successes of African Americans; incorporating our present, the past 400 years in North America, and the the thousands of years before that in Africa. But . . . the real hope was that the stories of people, events, and places, routinely ignored, would be incorporated throughout the school year.
As educator, author, and activist Jose Vilson put it:
“. . . has it ever occurred to you that, as well-intentioned as (Black History Month) might be, we ought to take the next step and celebrate Black history on March 1st as well?”
I’m guessing we’re all in agreement on the going beyond February business. The question now becomes how to do what Woodson dreamed of and Vilson advocates.
Do I have all the answers? Not even close. But there are a lot of very smart people out there who do. What have I learned and continue to learn? Read more