The Father of Black History
Overlooked history inspired Black History Month. More precisely, a historian named Carter G. Woodson, alarmed by the fact that black Americans were being left out of our written history, initiated Negro History Week in 1926. This was the precursor to Black History Month.
Carter Woodson was no ordinary historian. He was the son of former slaves, once worked as a sharecropper, entered high school at age 20 and became the second African American to earn a doctorate from Harvard.
He knew about history and he knew about being Black in America. This quote from one of his books illustrates what he was up against in his crusade to educate and inspire.
"Of the hundreds of Negro high schools recently examined by an expert in the United States Bureau of Education only eighteen offer a course taking up the history of the Negro, and in most of the Negro colleges and universities where the Negro is thought of, the race is studied only as a problem or dismissed as of little consequence."
Carter G. Woodson, “The Mis-Education of the Negro” (1933)
Fifty years would pass before Gerald Ford would officially recognize Black History Month in 1976, Here’s what he said at the time:
“... seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
Why did Carter Woodson choose February? He reasoned that his chance of success would be greater if he expanded the idea of celebrating black history rather than introducing an entirely new concept. So, he selected a month when people were already celebrating two prominent figures in the shaping of American Black history. Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass have birthdays in February, on the 12th and 14th, respectively.
Carter Woodson died long before Black History Month became official in 1976, but there is no doubt that it’s because of him that we officially celebrate black history in February.
Carter Woodson believed in an even larger view of the study, celebration and inspiration of American Black History. He knew it was bigger than any one month. We agree with Mr. Woodson and in that spirit we will continue to discover and share inspiring stories of black, indigenous and people of color in American history.
Mr. Woodson believed that the telling of our unreported history would help to bring people together. Let’s prove him right.
Florence Price (1887 - 1953)
Ella Fitzgerald was a jazz singer who performed for 58 years. She won thirteen Grammies and sold over 40 million records. She became the youngest member of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers in 1943 and her 13th Grammy (awarded for “All That Jazz”) was inducted into the National Woman’s Hall of Fame. Ella Fitzgerald won the first Grammy for Best Jazz Performance in 1959.
ROBERT C. MAYNARD
Robert C. Maynard was the first African American editor and owner of a major daily newspaper in the United States. Mr. Maynard dropped out of high school at 16 to work as a freelance newspaper writer, but would encourage education throughout his life. He would also be awarded many honorary doctorates.
Shirley Chisolm was a champion of rights for black people and women. She was also the first black woman elected to the United States Congress and she did it in 1968.
We’d love to know who from our history inspires you. Please leave a comment and let us know!
ASALH (Association for the Study of African American Life and History), “Origins of Black History Month”, Daryl Michael Scott, Professor of History at Howard University
THOUGHT CO, “What is Black History Month and How Did It Begin?”, Lisa Vox, January 31, 2021 (updated)
THE ATLANTA JOURNAL CONSTITUTION, “Who Was Carter G. Woodson? 7 Things To Know About the ‘Father of Black History’”, Fiza Pirani, February 1, 2018
WAFB9, "Black History Month: River Road African American Museum", Carmen Poe, February 20, 2019
KBACH Radio, "Black Musicians in History, Lisa Vox", January 31, 2021 (updated)
BLACKPAST.ORG, "101 African American Firsts"