Thursday, February 9, 2017

Carter G. Woodson, Founder of Black History Month

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Carter G. Woodson
When he conceived of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History in 1915, Carter G. Woodson believed that publishing scientific history about the black race would produce facts that would prove to the world that Africa and its people had played a crucial role in the development of civilization. As a Harvard-trained historian, Woodson, like W. E. B. Du Bois before him, believed that the truth could not be denied and that reason would prevail over prejudice. He thus established a scholarly journal, The Journal of Negro History, a year after he formed the Association. Scientific history, he believed, would counter racial falsehoods, and the community of white scholars would alter its view of the black race. Eventually the truth would trickle down to the public, and the race problem would gradually disappear.

As early as 1920, Woodson had urged black civic organizations to promote the achievements that researchers were uncovering. That year he prodded his fraternity brothers at Omega Psi Phi to take up the work.

In 1924 they responded with the creation of Negro History and Literature Week, which they renamed Negro Achievement Week. By 1925, Woodson decided that the Association had to expand its program. Henceforth it would be an organization dedicated to discovering and popularizing the truth. The Association had to reeducate blacks as well as whites, and its doors had to be opened to all interested in history, not just historians and other scholars.

The Association announced Negro History Week for 1926. Black history clubs sprang up, teachers demanded materials to instruct their pupils, and progressive whites, not simply white scholars and philanthropists, stepped forward to endorse the effort. Woodson and the Association scrambled to meet the demands of public history. For teachers, the Association published photographs and portraits of important black people. It published plays to dramatize black history. To serve the desire of history buffs to participate in the reeducation of black folks, ASNLH formed branches to bring them into the organization.

Woodson selected the week of February that encompassed the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, two giants in the history of African Americans. Lincoln, of course, had issued the Emancipation Proclamation that moved the nation away from slavery, and Frederick Douglass had been the greatest leader of African Americans. Symbolically, the selection of Lincoln's and Douglass' birthdays as the week to study Black history reflected Woodson's belief that the history of African Americans was American history.

The Black Awakening of the 1960s dramatically expanded the consciousness of African Americans about the importance of black history. The Freedom Schools established during the civil rights era all included the study of Black history. As African Americans entered into mainstream colleges, they demanded Black Studies and Black history became a central feature. Increasingly there were cries for more than a week to study Black History

In 1976, fifty years after the first celebration, the Association held the first Black History Month. By this time, the entire nation had come to recognize the importance of Black history in the drama of the American story. Since then all American presidents, Republicans and Democrats alike have issued Black History Month proclamations.

In keeping with tradition, the Association, now known as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), believes that Black history, like American history, should be studied 365 days a year. Yet as the Founders of Black History Month, ASALH continues to view February as the critical month for carrying forth the mission.

2017 Black History Month Theme

The Crisis in Black Education Executive Summary 2017: The theme for 2017 focuses on the crucial role of education in the history of African Americans. ASALH’s founder Carter G. Woodson once wrote that “if you teach the Negro that he has accomplished as much good as any other race he will aspire to equality and justice without regard to race.” Woodson understood well the implications associated with the denial of access to knowledge and he called attention to the crisis that resulted from persistently imposed racial barriers to equal education. The crisis in black education first began in the days of slavery when it was unlawful for slaves to learn to read and write. In pre-Civil War northern cities, free blacks were forced as children to walk long distances past white schools on their way to the one school relegated solely to them. Whether by laws, policies, or practices, racially separated schools remained the norm in America from the late nineteenth century well into our own time. Throughout the last quarter of the twentieth century and continuing today, the crisis in black education has grown significantly in urban neighborhoods where public schools lack resources, endure overcrowding, exhibit a racial achievement gap, and confront policies that fail to deliver substantive opportunities. The touted benefits of education remain elusive to many blacks of all ages. Tragically, some poorly performing schools serve as pipelines to prison for youths. Yet, African American history is rich in centuries-old efforts of resistance to this crisis: the slaves’ surreptitious endeavors to learn; the rise of black colleges and universities after the Civil War; unrelenting battles in the courts; the black history movement; the freedom schools of the 1960s; and local community-based academic and mentorship programs that inspire a love of learning and thirst for achievement. Addressing the crisis in black education should be considered one of the most important goals in America’s past, present, and future.

Submitted by: Elmetra Patterson