From Sharecropper to Scholar: How Carter G. Woodson Launched Negro History Week in February

Dr. Carter G. Woodson launched Negro History Week on February 7, 1926. It is the foundation for the Black History Month celebration that we embrace today.

“History shows that it does not matter who is in power or what revolutionary forces take over the government, those who have not learned to do for themselves and have to depend solely on others never obtain any more rights or privileges in the end than they had in the beginning.” Woodson wrote in The Mis-Education of the Negro.

Sharing the Hidden Stories of History

Woodson was an accomplished journalist, historian and author.

Woodson was born the son of freed slaves on December 19, 1875 in New Canton, Virginia. Growing up in the late 19th century, Woodson witnessed the impact of limited educational and employment opportunities. He and his family moved to West Virginia, found income-producing work, and started saving their money to create a better life. By age 20, Woodson’s work as a coal miner earned him enough savings to help him pursue formal education.

Wilson’s educational pursuits paid off. He taught himself English and Math and proceeded to graduate from Berea College in 1903 and earn a master’s degree in history from the University of Chicago. In 1912, Woodson made history as the second African American to obtain a PhD from Harvard University. This was the beginning of a lifelong commitment to preserving, researching, and sharing the untold stories of Black trailblazers.

Woodson Dedicated a Week to Black History

According to the NAACP, Woodson and a group of friends in Chicago created the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History in 1915. He sought to provide young Black people with valuable history lessons and education.

Dr. Woodson went on to share the importance of thought leadership and freedom in The Mis-Education of the Negro. “When you control a man’s thinking you do not have to worry about his actions. You do not have to tell him not to stand here or go yonder. He will find his ‘proper place’ and will stay in it. You do not need to send him to the back door. He will go without being told. In fact, if there is no back door, he will cut one for his special benefit. His education makes it necessary.”

In 1926, Woodson dedicated the second week of February to a universal sharing of Black history. This period, known as Negro History Week, was the foundation for the birth of Black History Month in 1976. It also coincides with the birthdays of Frederick Douglas and Abraham Lincoln, two men who played a role in abolishing slavery.

From Home to Library of Inspiration

Woodson’s home is a national historic site in Washington, D.C. The home captures the essence of Woodson’s work: preserving and celebrating Black history.

According to the National Parks Conservation Association, this is where Woodson institutionalized the study of Black history from 1915 until his death in 1950. It was where Woodson managed the Associated Publishers publishing company, the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, and Negro History week.

Woodson left something behind that can transform the lives of generations of Black people. Woodson, known by many as the “Father of Black History” once said, “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.”