I haven’t seen a lot on social media so far this month that celebrates the accomplishments of black people. Black History Month is not some token time to appease black people, and it’s not a time to simply recognize well-known black people. It’s a time for us to learn and acknowledge the far-reaching and deep impact that black people have had in every aspect of our society. It is vital that we remember that America was born from the suffering of black people (and indigenous and Chinese). But, it is also vital that we be pro-active in learning and sharing and celebrating the contributions they have made to art, science, math, literature, pop culture, politics, social structure, and so much more.
Every day this month (and beyond) I want to learn something new and share it with you, starting with a little bit about Carter G. Woodson.
Woodson was the child of illiterate former slaves. He often had to teach himself in the brief moments he wasn’t working and farming. He tried to attend a secondary school for black children, but instead had to work in a coal mine. His drive for knowledge and personal development eventually earned him a Bachelor’s in Literature in Kentucky, followed by two degrees from the University of Chicago. Then he became the second black American to receive a PhD in history from Harvard (after W.E.B. Du Bois.)
Woodson noted that African-American contributions “were overlooked, ignored, and even suppressed by the writers of history textbooks and the teachers who use them” and that “race prejudice 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.”
In 1915, he founded the Journal of Negro History, and he started The Association for the Study of Negro Life and Culture (now called The Association for the Study of African American Life and History) with the goal of making black history accessible to a wider audience.
In 1920, he founded the Associated Publishers, the oldest African-American publishing company in the US.
In 1926, he created Negro History Week in Washington DC (which became Black History Month 50 years later), because the black experience was “too important to be left to academics.” He believed that his role was to use black history and culture as a weapon in the struggle for racial uplift.
Throughout his life he sought to educate people about black American history. In 1937, he created the Negro History Bulletin, for teachers in elementary and high school grades, and published continuously since 1937. Learn more about his life’s accomplishments here.
Much of what I learned about Woodson came from this blog post at National Museum of African American History & Culture, which is an excellent read. The writer said it best: “You can tell a great deal about a country and a people by what they deem important enough to remember.” So, please join me this month in seeking out and sharing information about black individuals, events, and experiences – especially if you are white – because it is beyond important that we do so.
“If you can control a man’s thinking you do not have to worry about his action. When you determine what a man shall think you do not have to concern yourself about what he will do. If you make a man feel that he is inferior, you do not have to compel him to accept an inferior status, for he will seek it himself. If you make a man think that he is justly an outcast, you do not have to order him to the back door. He will go without being told; and if there is no back door, his very nature will demand one.” ― Carter G. Woodson, The Mis-Education of the Negro