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‘Let Us Banish Fear’: How Carter G. Woodson, Father of Black History Month, Preserved Black Excellence

Dr. Carter G. Woodson's "Negro History Week" was only the beginning of an initiative that would shape the future possibilities of African-Americans.

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Black History Month
{Photographer: BojanMirkovic}/{DigitalVision Vectors} via Getty Images

Acclaimed poet Maya Angelou once said, “If you don’t know where you’ve come from, you don’t know where you’re going.”

Since 1976, every U.S. president has acknowledged February as Black History Month to celebrate the contributions African-Americans have made to U.S. history. On Monday, January 31, President Joe Biden issued his proclamation on Black History Month 2022, noting that “Black history is American history, Black culture is American culture, and Black stories are essential to the ongoing story of America — our faults, our struggles, our progress, and our aspirations.”

Every year, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) celebrates Black History Month with a specific focus. This year’s theme is Black Health and Wellness, acknowledging the legacy of Black scholars, medical practitioners, naturopaths, herbalists, birthworkers, doulas, and other health professionals.

Although Black History Month didn’t become a month-long national observance until 1976, Black history has been acknowledged and celebrated by African-Americans for decades.

On September 15, 1915, Carter G. Woodson, now known as the “Father of Black History,” established the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH) in Chicago, IL. The following month, the association was incorporated in Washington, D.C., and remains the headquarters today. Woodson’s work was driven by his desire to keep Black History alive. He once said, “Those who have no record of what their forebears have accomplished lose the inspiration which comes from the teaching of biography and history.”

Now called the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), the association is on a mission to “promote, research, preserve, interpret and disseminate information about Black life, history and culture to the global community.”

“The aim of this generation should be to collect the records of the Negro and treat them scientifically in order that the race may not become a negligible factor in the thought of the world.” – Carter G. Woodson, 1939

In January 1916, four months after launching the ASNLH, Woodson published the first issue of The Journal of Negro History. In 2002, this publication became The Journal of African American History.

According to the University of Chicago Press Journals, The Journal of Negro History was the first piece of original scholarly content to cover African-American life and history. It remains a leading scholarly publication for research and content about the African-American experience.

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Woodson’s work and research didn’t stop there. On February 7, 1926, he initiated the celebration of “Negro History Week” to bring national attention to the accomplishments of Black people in history. This week was the precursor of Black History Month. Dr. Woodson, along with other researchers and writers, paved the way for future generations to deepen their study on African American history beyond the month of February.

In Woodson’s book, The Mis-Education of the Negro,“ he attempted to shift mindsets so that more African-Americans could tap into their internal power.

“No man knows what he can do until he tries.” – Carter G. Woodson.

He often highlighted the power of mindset in the advancement of African-Americans, “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.”

Woodson was born on December 19, 1875 in New Canton, Virginia. During his lifetime, he documented and highlighted the accomplishments of African-Americans to ensure these stories remained an integral part of history. He died on April 3, 1950, but his legacy lives on. In 1976, Woodson’s home was named a National Historic Landmark. 27 years later, Congress designated his home a National Historic Site.

Keeping the Mission Alive

{Photographer: BojanMirkovic}/{DigitalVision Vectors} via Getty Images.

What are you doing to keep Dr. Carter G. Woodson’s mission alive? Woodson believed “Black people should be proud of their heritage and all Americans should understand the largely overlooked achievements of Black Americans,” according to the NAACP.

Since we launched the Chicago Southsider in August 2021, we’ve been committed to highlighting the contributions African-Americans have made on Chicago’s South Side. We also highlight stories from emerging and experienced entrepreneurs that don’t always get recognized by mainstream media.

Please help us continue Woodson’s legacy by supporting Chicago Southsider. Woodson said, “Let us banish fear. We have been in this mental state for three centuries. I am a radical. I am ready to act, if I can find brave men to help me.”

Are you ready to act? The time is now to make a difference and stand up for future generations. By becoming an annual subscriber, you can help us build a sustainable platform that will give us the bandwidth to memorialize more stories and show others what’s possible. Here are some recent stories that we shared with our community:

Who else should we highlight this month? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

Dr. King once said, “This day we must declare our own Emancipation Proclamation.” Well, that’s exactly what we plan to do.

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