January 29, 2012

Written by Professor Barbara Winslow, Director of the Shirley Chisholm Project

In 1926, activist and historian Carter G. Woodson pioneered the celebration of “Negro History Week”, designated for the second week in February, to coincide with marking the birthdays of  Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. The week of recognition became accepted and was extended as the full month of February, now known as Black History Month.

Convinced that the role of his own people in American history and in the history of other cultures was being ignored or misrepresented among scholars, Carter G. Woodson realized the need for research into the neglected past of African Americans. Along with Alexander L. Jackson and three associates, he founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History on September 9, 1915, in Chicago. That was the year Woodson published The Education of the Negro Prior to 1861. In January 1916, Woodson began publication of the scholarly Journal of Negro History. In 2002, it was renamed the Journal of African American History and continues to be published by the  Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH). A member of the NAACP, he resigned protesting its then conservative direction. “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.”

After he left Howard University, Dr. Woodson devoted the rest of his life to historical research. He worked to preserve the history of African Americans and accumulated a collection of thousands of artifacts and publications. He noted that African American contributions “were overlooked, ignored, and even suppressed by the writers of history textbooks and the teachers who use them. Race prejudice, he concluded, “is merely the logical result of tradition, the inevitable outcome of thorough instruction to the effect that the Negro has never contributed anything to the progress of mankind.

Video courtesy of Library of Virginia.

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