He was born to former slaves in 1875. His parents, Anne Eliza (Riddle) and James Henry Woodson, could neither read nor write. Instead of going to school, he stayed home and worked the family farm in New Canton, Va. Having largely taught himself, he didn’t attend high school until he was 20 years old.
And yet, as a man with this humble childhood experience, Carter Godwin Woodson went on to attend Berea College in Kentucky, the University of Chicago, Sorbonne University in Paris; and became one of the first Blacks to graduate from Harvard University with a doctorate degree.
With that PhD in history, he wrote 18 books and ultimately became who America now knows as Dr. Carter G. Woodson, founder of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History in 1915, now the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH). Through ASALH, he established Negro History Week in 1926, now Black History Month. For this, he is also known as the “father of Black History”.
Dr. Daryl Scott, current president of ASALH, celebrating its centennial this year, discusses Dr. Woodson’s peculiar, history-making journey.
“While being a teacher in the DC public schools, he establishes an organization with the lofty mission of proving - against the opinions of the greatest scholars in the world - that people of African descent and Africans have basically made history and have had great civilizations in as good stead as any other group of people in human history,” said Scott, also a professor of U. S. history at Howard University. “For him to stake out this position and start an organization with a purpose of demonstrating the greatness of the Black path, it took courage, it took a certain arrogance and it took a certain belief in the righteousness of his cause.”
Dr. Woodson credited the wisdom of his father, a carpenter, for his clarity of mind. He wrote that his father taught him that "learning to accept insult, to compromise on principle, to mislead your fellow man, or to betray your people, is to lose your soul."
With this belief, Carter G. Woodson achieved greatness through his works. In celebration of his mission, ASALH has adopted the theme, “A Century of Black Life, History, and Culture” for the 2015 Black History Month.
In his most popular book, “The Mis-Education of the Negro,” Dr. Woodson writes: “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.”
Dr. Scott concludes: “Carter G. Woodson is perhaps the greatest historical example of what a person can do by force of personality, how a person can rise above a humble background and achieve great things by simply applying themselves without any sense of limitation with a belief that they can make a difference in the world.”