27 Surprising Facts About Carter G. Woodson and Black History Month That Will Inspire You

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If you ever doubt what you are capable of, I’ll point you to ancestors who turned the impossible into the possible during the toughest times.

Dr. Carter G. Woodson is the perfect example of this. His parents were illiterate, but that didn’t stop him from becoming the second African-American to obtain a PhD in history from Harvard University in 1912.

Carter G. Woodson’s legacy lives on through the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH), which launched in Chicago in 1915. Throughout his life, he performed research and developed content designed to preserve Black History and excellence. He is also the reason that the country celebrates Black History Month in February. On February 7, 1926, Woodson kicked off Negro History Week, the precursor to Black History Month. Now, we celebrate Carter G. Wood as the “Father of Black History Month.”

Woodson, along with many other leaders, paved the way for Black History education and appreciation. His work as a journalist, educator, and historian will be carried on by many organizations, including Chicago Southsider. 

It’s time to learn more about the man behind Black History Month. Here are 27 things you probably didn’t know about Carter G. Woodson — and a bit of motivation to sweeten the pot of inspiration!

Carter G. Woodson Chicago Southsider
{Photographer: Klaus Vedfelt}/{DigitalVision} via Getty Images.

1. Woodson was born to former slaves, James Henry and Anna Eliza Woodson, on December 19, 1875 in New Canton, Virginia. Although Woodson’s father was illiterate, he taught his son to demand respect and stay true to his legacy as a Black Man. “Be polite to everyone but demand respect as a human being and never betray the race,” said his father, according to the released on February 7, 1994.

2. Woodson didn’t attend school all year round due to family commitments. He worked on the family farm with his siblings. There’s a different level of learning that occurs when you have a chance to dive into family affairs at a young age.

3. During farming season breaks, Woodson attended a school that was managed by his uncles, James Buchanan Riddle and John Morton Riddle. Having teachers that look like you can make a big difference in your life.

4. In 1892, when he was 17 years old, Woodson moved to West Virginia to work in the coal mines. Surprisingly, that’s where he picked up an unforgettable lesson in history and economics. Oliver Jones, a fellow miner and intellectual, would invite colleagues to his house to purchase ice cream and watermelon. Although Jones was illiterate, he subscribed to many publications to stay on top of the news and would converse about the latest events with his colleagues. When he discovered that Woodson could read, Jones asked him to read the information in the daily newspapers in exchange for free snacks.

5. Reading expanded Woodson’s portfolio of knowledge. He also increased his learning through the oral history shared by Oliver Jones and his colleagues. Woodson became fluent in many topics, such as the gold standard, tariffs, and free trade, according to the University of Chicago Magazine. Never stop learning and growing. Use every experience as a learning opportunity.

6. Woodson didn’t start high school until he turned 20. However, this self taught leader was able to complete a four-year course of study at all-black Douglas High School in less than 2 years! Woodson was an adult when he received his diploma in 1897. It’s never too late to achieve your goals.

7. After high school graduation, Woodson worked as a full-time teacher and principal. He also became a student at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. In 1903, he graduated from Berea College in Kentucky.

8. From 1903 to 1907, when he was 28 years old, Woodson worked as an educator in the Philippines. Don’t be afraid to change your environment.

9. In 1907, Woodson embarked on a six-month world tour to conduct research. He had a chance to take classes at the Sorbonne in Paris. Traveling the world expands your view of everything around you.

10. Woodson earned a Masters degree in history from the University of Chicago in 1908. Don’t be afraid to take that next step on your journey to get where you need to go.

11. In 1909, Woodson got an offer letter to attend Harvard University.

12. Although Woodson’s parents were illiterate, he became the second African American to obtain a PhD in history from Harvard University in 1912. Woodson was granted scholarships to help fund his educational pursuits. Don’t allow where you come from to dictate where you go. Understand your history so you can create a new narrative.

13. According to NPS, Woodson was the only American of slave parentage to earn a Ph.D. in history.

14. Woodson came to Chicago in June 1915 to attend a national celebration of the 50th anniversary of emancipation. He also spent time researching and writing.

15. In August 1915, Woodson attended the National Half Century Anniversary Exposition and The Lincoln Jubilee in Chicago at the Coliseum on Wabash Avenue and 15th Street. Prominent leaders from all over the world came together to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the emancipation. In 1865, the 13th Amendment was passed to abolish slavery in the United States.

16. Woodson gathered George Cleveland Hall, James Stamps, William B. Hartgrove, and Alexander L. Jackson. They founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH) in September 1915.

17. The ASNLH was organized in Chicago at the Wabash YMCA. Alexander Louis Jackson II, a fellow Harvard alumnus, served as secretary of the Wabash YMCA, a Chicago Landmark located at 3763 S. Wabash Ave. He also served as the director of the Wabash YMCA in Chicago.

18. Sources say that Carter G. Woodson was inspired by John Cromwell’s book, The Negro in American History: Men and Women Eminent in the Evolution of the American of African Descent. In 1921, Cromwell became the first Black CPA.

19. In October 1915, the ASNLH was incorporated in Washington, D.C. This is currently the headquarters for Woodson’s work. Every year, the organization assigns a theme for Black History Month. The theme for 2022 is “Black Health and Wellness.” The association is committed to focusing on the work of medical practitioners and health care providers.

21. In January 1916, Woodson founded the Journal of Negro History under the ASNLH. The journal was one of the first scholarly texts to cover African-American life and history.

21. Carter G. Woodson worked as a professor and Dean of the School of Liberal Arts at Howard University in 1919-20. He was also Dean at West Virginia State College from 1920-1922.

22. On February 7, 1926, Woodson launched the first celebration of Negro History Week which is now Black History Month. He came to the Wabash YMCA on the South Side of Chicago to make the big announcement, according to the University of Chicago

23. Woodson chose February for Negro History Week to pay tribute to Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglas. Both of their birthdays are in February.

24. Woodson has written over 27 books and articles. Have you read his work?

25. In 1937, Woodson launched The Negro History Bulletin, now called The Black History Bulletin. Pioneering educator and founder of Bethune-Cookman University, Mary McLeod Bethune, encouraged Dr. Woodson to publish the Negro History Bulletin to teachers and the masses, according to The Black History Bulletin.

26. Mary McLeod Bethune served as a member of the board of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History.

27. Fun fact: Mary McLeod Bethune and Dr. Carter G. Woodson were both born in 1875. Bethune was born on July 10, 1875 in Mayesville, SC.

Woodson died on April 3, 1950. His Washington, DC home is a National Historic Site.

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