- The most dangerous thing to a person or a race is if he/she is ignorant or does not realize that he/she has been cheated or enslaved.
Carter Goodwin Woodson (1875-1950) wrote: “If a race has no history, if it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated.” Woodson saw the educational system of his generation as solely dedicated to the glorification of Europeans and their achievements. Consequently, he dedicated his entire life to informing the masses, both black and white, about the magnificent history and “worthwhile traditions” of people of African descent.
Dr. Carter G. Woodson has been called the “Father of Negro History” because of his pioneering efforts to systematically and continuously have the accomplishments of Black people taught in our school systems. In 1915, he organized the “Association for the Study of Negro Life and History” and in 1916 started the “Journal of Negro History.” In 1926, he initiated the observance of “Negro History Week” which was later expanded to “Black History Month”. Dr. Woodson felt that any African American only exposed to the white educational system without any exposure to positive black achievements was “miss-educated and completely useless to his race.”
The founding of the “Association for the Study of Negro Life and History” in 1915 was one of Woodson’s most important accomplishments. Centered in Washington D.C., this association gathered as many books on black history and achievements as possible and many of these books were later used as textbooks in all grades of schools from elementary to the university. Dr. Woodson also published voluminously to help fill the initial textbook void. His most popular books include: “A Century of Negro Education,” “History of the Negro Church,” “The Rural Negro,” “Education of the Negro Prior to 1861,” “Miss-Education of the Negro,” “African Backgrounds Outlined,” “African Heroes and Heroines,” and “The Negro in Our History.” Dr. Woodson also collected vast quantities of original documents by people of African descent, which might otherwise have been lost.
Dr. Woodson’s “Journal of Negro History” which soon became established as one of the most scholarly and authoritative journals in America. The journal received contributions from some of America’s foremost scholars, both Black and White, with many of its articles widely quoted in the leading educational centers of Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the United States. Woodson hoped that articles from his journal would help black students develop a more self-respecting view of themselves. J.A. Rogers says: “Woodson’s outspokenness at the manner in which Negroes were being taught to despise themselves by their teachers brought him several powerful enemies among leading Negro educators; but undaunted, he attacked them fearlessly until they were forced to his point of view.”
“Negro History Week” was initiated in 1926 with Carter G. Woodson as the principal founder. “Negro History Week” forced both Black and White schools and colleges throughout the nation to gather and present information on “Negro” history and achievements, which they had never done before. Woodson once said at the annual meeting of the Georgia Teachers’ and Educational Association: “I lament the teachers’ ignorance of their rich heritage…Few of our college presidents could make more than 10% on an examination in Negro history.”
Dr. Woodson was extremely critical of the so-called “highly educated”; that is, “the Negroes who have put on the finishing touches of our best colleges.” He wrote: “The same educational process which inspires and stimulates the oppressor with the thought that he is everything and has accomplished everything worthwhile, depresses and crushes at the same time the spark of genius in the Negro by making him feel that his race does not amount to much and never will measure up to the standards of other peoples. The Negro thus educated is a hopeless liability of the race.” Woodson frequently told his audiences that it took him over 20 years to “get over” his Harvard education. He felt “modern education” meant bringing a person’s mind under the control of his oppressor. He wrote that once a black person’s mind is controlled, you won’t have to tell him to go to the back door because he will already know his “proper place.” He continued: “ In fact, if there is no back door, he will cut one out for his special benefit. His education makes it necessary.”
Dr. Woodson had even less respect for the black professional class, believing it to be more culturally backward and less race conscious than the masses. In 1930, he analyzed 25,000 Black professionals including doctors, dentists, and lawyers and concluded that they were more interested in making money than contributing to the advancement of their professions or to their race. He wrote that Black professionals were less likely than their White counterparts to keep up with the professional literature in their fields and that Black professional associations tended to emphasize social rather than professional advancement. Although Black professionals were dependent upon the Black working class to earn a living, Woodson saw the Black professional as “just as much class prejudice against the poor Negro as his White professional counterpart” and the least socially responsible among all Black people. Woodson viewed the Black physician as the worst. He wrote that Black physicians, when attending meetings of the National Medical Association were more interested in discussing the merits or demerits of the latest Cadillac than discussing the proper treatment for Tuberculosis or Typhoid Fever.” He said that most successful Black physicians “frittered away much of their energy in quest of material things like fine cars, fine homes, and a fine time.” Woodson once told a group of professionals: “You spend millions yearly to straighten your hair and bleach your skin and some of you go so far as to have your noses lifted in the hope of looking like the White man. Well, monkeys too have straight hair and thin lips.”
Dr. Carter Goodwin Woodson was born on December 19, 1875 in New Canton, Virginia to parents who were former slaves. Woodson was the eldest of nine children and was forced to work in the coal mines of West Virginia at an early age to help his parents make ends meet. This precluded his attending school until he was twenty years old. However, his love of knowledge was so great that despite the hard work he studied by himself at night and was especially fond of Greek and Latin classics. When he finally was able to go to school, he scored so high on the high school entrance examination that he was given an advanced standing and thus earned a diploma in only 18 months. Woodson then went on to obtain his bachelor’s degree and master’s degree at the University of Chicago. He completed studies for his Ph.D. at Harvard University in 1912, and then went to Sorbonne, Paris where he was one of the most brilliant students in “French languages and literature” for that year. After teaching several years in West Virginia, he went to the Philippines as a teacher and five months later was promoted to “Supervisor of Education” where he served for three years. He subsequently returned to the United States to become dean of the School of Liberal Arts at Howard University and later, dean of the West Virginia Collegiate Institute.
Carter Goodwin Woodson would be proud to know that black history is now a well-established, legitimate, and respected subject of study, and that historians are finally acknowledging his pioneering contributions. Dr. Woodson was tremendously effective in helping to improve the self-respect of Black people and giving them a brighter, more optimistic outlook. As he so eloquently said: “If you read the history of Africa, the history of your ancestors - people of whom you should feel proud - you will realize that they have a history that is worthwhile. They have traditions that have value of which you can boast and upon which you can base a claim for the right to share in the blessings of democracy.”
by Bishop G Mlalazi
by Bishop G Mlalazi