Historian Carter Godwin Woodson (December 19, 1875-April 3, 1950) spent his formative years in West Virginia. He was a historian, an author, and a publisher who began the systematic collection and dissemination of black historical information. He was often called the ‘‘Father of Black History.’’
Born to parents who were former slaves, in Buckingham County, Virginia, December 19, 1875, Woodson spent his early life in Virginia. The family moved permanently to Huntington in 1893 after Carter and his brother, Robert, had migrated to West Virginia to work in the coal mines. Working in Fayette County, Woodson was influenced by association with Oliver Jones and other miners to whom he read books and newspapers. ‘‘In this circle the history of the race was discussed frequently, and my interest in penetrating the past of my people was deepened and intensified,’’ Woodson said in 1944.
Woodson attended Douglass High School in Huntington, graduating in 1896. He studied at Berea College in Kentucky, and returned to Huntington as principal of Douglass in 1900. In 1903, Woodson accepted an administrative and teaching assignment in the Philippines; during 1906–07, he traveled around the world, studied at the Sorbonne, and returned to continue his education at the University of Chicago and at Harvard, receiving a doctorate from the latter institution in 1912.
In Chicago, on September 9, 1915, Woodson and others created the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. Using his own salary as a teacher and funds that he borrowed on his life insurance policy, Woodson in 1915 also published his first book, The Education of the Negro Prior to 1861. This book was followed by numerous other publications, including the much-used textbook, The Negro in Our History. In January 1916, Woodson began the publication of the Journal of Negro History. Carter G. Woodson established the publishing company, Associated Publishers, in 1919, and by 1926 he inaugurated Negro History Week, which now continues as Black History Month. In 1937, he began the publication of The Negro History Bulletin, a journal intended for use in the schools.
From 1919 to 1920, Woodson served as the Dean of Liberal Arts at Howard University, after working as a public school teacher and principal in Washington. His final professional appointment in West Virginia was as the Dean of the West Virginia Collegiate Institute, now West Virginia State University, from 1920–22. He then returned to Washington. Though he never lived or worked in West Virginia again, Woodson maintained his family ties and came back to the state for speaking engagements and to visit in Huntington. He remained attentive to his family’s needs and aided them financially for many years.
Carter G. Woodson died in Washington. The Carter G. Woodson Memorial Foundation erected a life-sized statue of him on Hal Greer Boulevard in Huntington.
This Article was written by Ancella R. Bickley
Last Revised on November 19, 2010
Logan, Rayford. Carter G. Woodson: Mirror and Molder of his Time. Journal of Negro History, (Jan. 1973).
Meier, August & Elliott Rudwick. J. Franklin Jameson, Carter G. Woodson, and the Foundations of Black Historiography. American Historical Review, (Oct. 1984).
Wesley, Charles R. Carter G. Woodson as a Scholar. Journal of Negro History, (1951).