Carter Godwin Woodson, famously known as the “father of Black history,” is credited with being the first historian to deeply document the long-neglected history of African Americans and try to ensure that it was factual and truthful.
Born on Dec. 19, 1875 in New Canton, Virginia, to former slaves Anne Eliza Riddle and James Henry Woodson, Carter Woodson worked in the coal mines of Kentucky to support his enrolment in high school at the age of 20. He graduated in less than two years, taught high school, wrote articles, and earned a Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1912.
Woodson was dean of the College of Liberal Arts and head of the graduate faculty at Howard University in Washington, D.C. (1919 to 1920), and dean at West Virginia State College Institute (1920 to 1922).
He was the first U.S. historian to open up the field of Black studies to scholars and popularize it in schools and colleges of Black people. He founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History in 1915 to encourage an intensive study of the Black past.
Woodson urged African Americans — many, forbidden to read and write during slavery and without family records — to document important contributions they had made to society. He encouraged newspapers to write about significant African Americans.
In 1926, Woodson founded Negro History Week, focusing on Black contributions to civilization. He died on April 3, 1950, in D.C.
Many of Carter G. Woodson’s quotes still resonate today on the history of Black Americans.
“History shows that it does not matter who is in power or what revolutionary forces take over the government, those who have not learned to do for themselves and have to depend solely on others never obtain any more rights or privileges in the end than they had in the beginning.”
“Every man has two educators: that which is given to him, and the other that which he gives himself. Of the two kinds, the latter is by far the more desirable. All that is most worthy in man he must work out and conquer for himself. It is that which constitutes our real and best nourishment. What we are merely taught seldom nourishes the mind like that which we teach ourselves.”
“Negroes must begin to do the very thing which they have been taught that they cannot do.”
“We should emphasize not Negro history but the Negro in history. What we need is not a history of selected races or nations, but the history of the world void of national bias, race hate, and religious prejudice.”
“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. Such an effort would upset the program of the oppressor in Africa and America. Play up before the Negro, then, his crimes and shortcomings. Let him learn to admire the Hebrew, the Greek, the Latin and the Teuton. Lead the Negro to detest the man of African blood — to hate himself.”
“The mere imparting of information is not education … Real education means to inspire people to live more abundantly, to learn to begin with life as they find it and make it better.”
“The bondage of the Negro brought captive from Africa is one of the greatest dramas in history, and the writer who merely sees in that ordeal something to approve or condemn fails to understand the evolution of the human race.”
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“The present system under the control of the whites trains the Negro to be white and at the same time convinces him of the impropriety or the impossibility of his becoming white … Negros will have no outlet but to go down a blind alley if the sort of education which they are now receiving is to enable them to find the way out of their present difficulties.”
“Let us banish fear. We have been in this mental state for three centuries. I am a radical. I am ready to act if I can find brave men to help me.
“In the schools of business administration, Negroes are trained exclusively in the psychology and economics of Wall Street and are, therefore, made to despise the opportunities to run ice wagons, push banana carts, and sell peanuts among their own people. Foreigners, who have not studied economics but have studied Negroes, take up this business and grow rich.”
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