As we observe Black History Month throughout February, one name you may hear often mentioned is Dr. Carter G. Woodson. Doctor Woodson is considered to be the Father of African American History, not only for his creation of an annual African American history observation, but also for his efforts to make the study of Black history in America a serious academic field.
Carter Woodson was born in Virginia in 1875, a decade after the end of the Civil War. As a young man he worked in a coal mine and was unable to attend high school until he was 20 years old. But after taking college courses while he worked, Woodson ended up going to the prestigious University of Chicago and eventually to Harvard University, where he got his doctorate.
After getting his degree from Harvard, Woodson found that there was no serious research of African American culture and history. As a result, in 1915 he founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (known today as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History). Woodson went on to write such college textbooks as The Negro in Our History and The Education of the Negro Prior to 1861.
As part of his efforts to raise awareness of African Americans’ contributions to American history, Carter Woodson came up with the idea of having a Negro History Week every year in February. It is this tradition that eventually became today’s Black History Month.
The election in 2008 of Barack Obama to the presidency of the United States will be, for many, the most significant event of African American history in their lifetime. His successful reelection is cause for continuing to look forward. But the past remains hugely significant, as President Obama said in his first inaugural address on January 20, 2009:
Our challenges may be new, the instruments with which we meet them may be new, but those values upon which our success depends, honesty and hard work, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism—these things are old.
These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history.
What is demanded then is a return to these truths.
President Barack Obama also called on Americans to “choose our better history”—but in order to so choose, we must know that history, or learn that history. Black History Month is an opportunity to grow in our knowledge of American history and of the special contributions that African Americans have made. The following links provide numerous jumping-off points for exploration.
- Black History Month: History.com
History.com maintains this site dedicated to Black History Month; includes photo galleries, videos, time lines, and maps.
- HMH books for Black History Month
Explore this collection of newly released books for students.
- Celebrating Our Black History
Explore this interactive site to learn more about prominent African Americans—leaders, activists, entertainers, athletes, inventors—with video segments. From Biography.com.
- We Shall Overcome: Historic Places of the Civil Rights Movement
This National Park Service (NPS) travel itinerary lists 49 places associated with the modern civil rights movement, including the Selma-to-Montgomery March route.
- African American History
This NPS website features people, places, stories, and collections; includes links to lesson plans and classroom resources, related webpages on African American heritage, archeology and the African American past; museum curators’ stories; and other preservation specialists’ real-life exhibits and public programs.
- Unknown Recording of 1964 MLK Speech at ASU Discovered
This article is from Arizona State University’s news service tells about the recent discovery of a 1964 speech by Martin Luther King Jr. titled “Religious Witness for Human Dignity” (which can be heard here).
- The HistoryMakers
The HistoryMakers, a nonprofit educational institution, preserves and provides easy access to an internationally recognized archive of African American video oral histories.
- National Museum of African Art
Learn about Africa’s rich heritage as the cradle of humanity through exhibitions at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art.