A reflection on
Dr. Carter Woodson and the Black History Month
Black history month is the pivotal time of the year when
influential African Americans of history and today,
who have made monumental imprints on the memory of
mankind, are remembered. It is
celebrated annually in the United States and Canada in
The broad purpose of
this celebration is to give American and
Canadian citizens the opportunity to see and
hear about those men and women whose sacrifices
and visions have helped to advance human rights
in these parts of the world.
We owe the
celebration of Black History Month, and more
importantly, the study of black history, to Dr.
Carter G. Woodson. Carter Godwin Woodson was
born on December 19, 1875, at
Dr. Carter G. Woodson
New Canton, VA, to parents
who were former slaves.
His father supported the
family on his earnings as a carpenter. As a child in a
large and poor family, young Carter G. Woodson was
brought up without the ordinary comforts of life. He was
not able to attend school during much of its five-month
term because helping on the farm took priority over
Ambitious for more education, Carter moved to
Huntington, West Virginia, where he had hoped to attend
the Douglass High School full time. However, Carter was
forced to earn his living as a miner in Fayette County
coal fields and was able to devote only a few months
each year to his schooling in West Virginia.
In 1895, a twenty-year-old Carter entered Douglass High
School, where he received his diploma in less than two
years. He graduated within two years and later went on
to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard University 1912.
This African American scholar was disturbed to find in
his studies that history books largely ignored the black
American experience and when blacks did figure into the
picture, it was generally in ways that reflected the
inferior social position they were assigned at the time.
Woodson, always one to act on his ambitions, decided to
take on the challenge of writing black Americans into
the nation's history. He established the Association for
the Study of Negro Life and History (now called the
Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and
History) in 1915, and a year later founded the widely
respected Journal of Negro History.
In 1926, he launched Negro History Week as an initiative
to bring national attention to the contributions of
black people throughout American history. From 1930-1950
Carter published books and articles about African
Americans and the challenges they faced daily.
On April 3, 1950, Woodson died suddenly of an unknown
cause. His legacy lives on through his publications and
efforts made to help African Americans in America
recognize their intellectual potential.
Other influential African American heroes recognized
during black history month include Martin Luther King
Jr. and Rosa Parks.
Martin Luther King Jr. was one of the main leaders of
the civil rights movement. King was a Baptist minister,
one of the few leadership roles available to black men
at the time. He became a civil rights activist early in
his career. Through his powerful voice he raised public
consciousness of the civil rights movement and
established himself as one of the greatest orators in
In 1964, King became the youngest person to receive the
Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to end segregation and
racial discrimination through civil disobedience and
other non-violent means. Unfortunately, Dr. King met an
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., leader of the American
Civil Rights Movement, was assassinated on 4 April 1968
in Memphis, Tennessee while lending support to a
sanitation workers' strike. The assassination of Dr.
Martin Luther King, Jr. marked a significant moment in
the history of the Civil Rights Movement as well as in
the history of the United States. In death, as in life,
Dr. King influenced millions of Americans.
Unlike Dr. King, Ms. Rosa Parks was minding her business
riding a city bus home, when her actions became a major
part of history. Ms. Parks a seamstress,
in December of 1955, refused to give up her seat on that
bus to a white passenger. The bus driver had her
arrested. She was tried and convicted of violating local
Her act of bravery which sparked a citywide boycott of
the bus system in Montgomery, Alabama by blacks lasted
more than a year. Over the next four decades she made it
her duty to help her fellow African Americans
become aware of the history of
the civil rights struggle.
It was Ms. Park's bus incident
that led to the formation of the Montgomery Improvement
Association, then led by the young pastor of the Dexter
Avenue Baptist Church, who
happened to be Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. King, Jr. The
association called for a boycott. The boycott lasted 382
days and brought Mrs. Parks, Dr. King, and their cause
to the attention of the world. A Supreme Court Decision
struck down the Montgomery ordinance under which Mrs.
Park had been fined, and outlawed racial segregation on
There are many other stories that the black history
month celebrates. It was mavericks like Dr. G Woodson
that paved the way for all of us to recognize that our
history should never be left forgotten.
Annan, Jr. New York City, March 8, 2008