Monday, February 23, 2015

Chidike Okeem — Dr. Carter G. Woodson and Black History Month

Carter Godwin Woodson (December 19, 1875 – April 3, 1950) was an African-American historian, author, journalist and the founder of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. Woodson was one of the first scholars to study African-American history. A founder of The Journal of Negro History in 1915, Woodson has been cited as the father of black history. In February 1926 he announced the celebration of "Negro History Week", considered the precursor of Black History Month


If Black History Month is to stay true to Woodson’s vision, then promotion of black achievement needs to be the focus. Rather, as it exists today, Black History Month predominantly focuses on Brown vs. Board of Education in 1954, the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955-1956, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and other breakthroughs from oppression that occurred during that period. It is crucial to note that Woodson died in 1950—before the monumental events and milestones of the modern civil rights movement began. 

Given that Woodson was not alive for the bulk of the civil rights gains of the 1950s and 1960s, the modern civil rights movement could not have been part of his vision for the recognition of black achievement. Woodson astutely believed that asserting the importance of black people to world civilization was an inextricable component of reducing the prevalence of anti-blackness and racism in the Western world. Spotlighting freedom from oppression was not the primary goal of Negro History Week, inasmuch as Woodson knew there was more to black achievement and black culture. Woodson understood that the history of black Americans does not begin with slavery; rather, it begins with grand, ancient civilizations in Africa.

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