Black History Month: Carter G. Woodson

At the time of this year’s Black History Month, the Black Lives Matter movement has become a countervailing force to disturbing incidents that appear to indicate otherwise.

Therefore, to continue our annual tradition of honoring Black History Month (see last year’s installment here), this year we at Zenni Optical want to honor Black History Month by highlighting the achievements of the man considered the father of Black History Month – African-American writer and historian Dr. Carter G. Woodson, who devoted his life to celebrating the achievements of African Americans, and whose life has mattered in extraordinary ways.

One of Dr. Woodson’s accomplishments was the creation of the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History, in 1915. To commemorate the 100 years between 1915 and 2015, the official theme of this year’s Black History Month is, “A Century of Black Life, History and Culture.”

Dr. Woodson was born December 19, 1875, in New Canton, Virginia. He was the oldest son of former slaves Anna Eliza and James Woodson. While working as a coal miner, Dr. Woodson educated himself to the point where he was able to enroll at age 20 in Douglass Senior High School, earning his high-school diploma at age 22, in 1897. Three years later, he became the high school’s principal.

Douglass Junior and Senior High School were named after Frederick Douglass, the former slave and great human rights and abolitionist leader who became an advisor to President Abraham Lincoln.

When Dr. Woodson launched Negro History Week, in 1926, he declared that it should be celebrated in February, since that was the birth month of both Douglass and Lincoln.

While serving as a high-school principal, Dr. Woodson continued his education. He earned a bachelor’s degree in literature at Berea College, in Kentucky; a master’s degree in history from the University of Chicago; and a doctorate degree in history from Harvard, in 1912.

He was only the second African American, after the great W.E.B. Du Bois (the renowned scholar, activist, and co-founder of the NAACP), to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard. But Harvard at that time would not hire black professors, so Dr. Woodson joined the faculty of one of the leading American black colleges, Howard University.

After leaving Howard, Dr. Woodson worked to preserve the history of African Americans, noting that the contributions of African Americans “were overlooked, ignored, and even suppressed by the writers of history textbooks and the teachers who use them.”

To correct this, Dr. Woodson spent his life studying and publishing histories of various aspects of African-American life. Dr. Woodson believed that education and increasing social and professional contacts among blacks and whites could reduce racism. We do, too.