Commission on Human Rights
Carter G. Woodson is chosen as the 48th Great Black Kentuckian
The Kentucky Commission on Human Rights announces the 48th Great Black Kentuckian, Carter G. Woodson.
The Gallery of Great Black Kentuckians is the commission biographical poster series used statewide by schools and libraries. Great Black Kentuckians are role models or people significant to Kentucky history that may have been left out of traditional histories. The commission unveiled the poster last week at Berea College. See the poster attached.
Carter Woodson was an African American historian, author, and journalist. He was one of the first scholars to study Black History. Dr. Woodson, a Berea College graduate, is known as the Father of Black History because he helped initiate U.S. Black History Week, which is now U.S. Black History Month. He was founder and editor of the Journal of Negro History in 1916. He was a member of the first black fraternity Sigma Pi Phi and a member of Omega Psi Phi.
Woodson was born on Dec. 19, 1875, in New Canton, Va., and was the son of former slaves. As a young man, he moved to Kentucky to work in the coalmines, and was able to devote only a few months a year to school. In 1895, at age 20, he entered Douglass High School in Fayette County, Ky., where he earned his diploma in less than two years. From 1897 to 1900, he taught at the school, and in 1900, he became its principal. In 1903, he earned a bachelor’s degree in Literature with honors from Berea College, the first school in the South to admit students of every race and both genders on an equal basis. The school was founded in 1855 by abolitionist John Gregg Fee, a Kentucky slaveholder’s son. In 1908, Woodson went on to earn a master’s degree in European history from the University of Chicago and, in 1912, he earned a doctorate from Harvard University. He was the second African American, after W. E. Du Bois, to earn a doctorate in history from Harvard and the first person of enslaved parents to receive a Ph.D. in America.
He studied at the Sorbonne in Paris. He served as the dean of Howard University’s School of Liberal Arts (1919-20), and of the West Virginia State College West Virginia Collegiate Institute (1920-22). He founded and was president of Associated Publishers to produce books on black culture. He published many books and articles during his lifetime including the books, The Negro in History and The Mis-Education of the Negro. In 1984, he was commemorated on a U.S. postage stamp.
Woodson is most known for his association with Black History Month, which derived from Negro History Week, so named by his fraternity Omega Psi Phi. The group selected a week in February dedicated to celebrate the achievements of blacks. Through Woodson’s promotion of the celebration, its observance gained in popularity. In the 1960s, what was once a week of recognizing outstanding achievements of black Americans in science, literature, and the arts was expanded to a month. In 1976, it officially became “U.S. Black History Month.”
The Carter G. Woodson Institute for Afro-American and African American Studies at the University of Virginia was named in his honor. His hope was that widespread knowledge and the appreciation of history would help alleviate racial and economic discrimination. He dedicated his life to that cause.
The unique legacy of Kentucky’s imprint on Woodson’s life and the enduring importance Berea College places on Woodson is reflected in the form of its Carter G. Woodson Math and Science Institute, the Carter G. Woodson Professorship, and the Carter G. Woodson Student Service Award, which honors students for their commitment to academic excellence, service and interracial education. Dr. Woodson died in Washington, D. C., on April 3, 1950.
The Kentucky Commission on Human Rights is the state government agency that enforces the Kentucky Civil Rights Act and federal civil rights law. The commission will hold 50th anniversary events throughout 2010 in order to raise awareness of civil rights and equal opportunity in Kentucky.