Black History Month: Carter G. Woodson
By Brett Williams, Staff Writer

February has come upon us yet again, and it brings with it several annual events: the love-fest that is Valentine’s Day, President’s Day, and, of course, the hope of incoming spring. One more significant event takes place all throughout February, and it is sometimes largely overlooked by the students of West Geauga High School: Black History Month. Black History Month has a new theme each year, and the theme for 2008 is “Carter G. Woodson and the Origins of Multiculturalism.” Upon hearing this theme, many students might be scratching their heads, wondering, “Who in the world is this Woodson guy?”
Not as widely recognized as a leader in the African-American cultural movement of the 20th Century among the likes of W.E.B. DuBois, Martin Luther King, Jr., or Rosa Parks, Carter G. Woodson was just as significant and influential to African-American culture. Born in Virginia to former slaves on December 19, 1875, Woodson grew up poor and without a formal education. Still, he had a fierce passion for knowledge and managed to educate himself as well as he could. He worked as a coal miner, saving money until he was able to afford to go to college. He excelled in his education, earning a Bachelor degree from Berea College (Kentucky), an M.A. from the University of Chicago, and, finally, a Ph.D. from Harvard.
Woodson had a problem with the way American history was studied; he felt there was no emphasis on black history, even from African-Americans. He felt that black culture suffered from the lack of interest in its past and took steps to create that interest. He wrote many books, including Education of the Negro Prior to 1861 (1915), A Century of Negro Migration (1918), and The History of the Negro Church (1927). He also started periodicals stimulating the public’s interest in black history: the quarterly Journal of Negro History (1916) (renamed Journal of African-American History in 2002), and the weekly Negro History Bulletin (now the Black History Bulletin). He also helped organize Associated Publishers, an African-American publishing company, in 1920. This company published important books by black authors that other companies would not publish; today it is the oldest black publishing company in America.
The most significant of Woodson’s efforts towards black history was his founding of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH) with colleague Jesse E. Mooreland in 1915. It was later renamed the Association for the Study of African-American Life and History (ASALH) in 1972. This organization was what published the Journal and Bulletin, and what would, in 1926, initiate Black History Week. Today, the ASALH operates to continue Woodson’s legacy. They hold events that celebrate black culture and history throughout the year and choose the theme for Black History Month. Their official mission statement is, “To promote, research, preserve, interpret and disseminate information about Black life, history, and culture to the global community.”
Woodson’s idea for Black History Week was first implemented in 1926 as a weeklong celebration of black history and culture, occurring the second week in February to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. The first theme was, “The Negro in History.” The celebration was continued annually as a weeklong observance until 1976, when, as part of the United States Bicentennial celebration, it was extended through the entire month of February.
Carter G. Woodson died at 74 on April 3, 1950. He never married, being too deeply involved in his work. He was once quoted as saying, “No, you are trying to marry me off. I am married to my work". His Washington, D.C. home has been preserved as the Carter G. Woodson Home National Historic Site, and in 1992 the Library of Congress held an exhibition entitled, "Moving Back Barriers: The Legacy of Carter G. Woodson." Due to all of his hard work and life, he, himself, has become a part of the rich history he worked so hard for.