Carter G. Woodson Home National Historic Site highlights Carter G. Woodson's contributions to the nation. Around the turn of the 20th century as he began his own academic career, Woodson noticed a glaring hole in the educational system in the United States. The public knew very little about the role of African Americans in American history, and schools were not including African American history in their curricula. He worked tirelessly throughout his life to remedy this problem becoming nationally recognized as the “Father of Black History.” Woodson exposed the American public and education system to the lives and history of Americans of African descent and their profound impact on American society through such endeavors as establishing The Association for the Study of Negro Life and History and the Associated Publishers, starting The Journal of Negro History, and founding Negro History Week.
Born on December 19, 1875, Carter G. Woodson was the son of former slaves. As an African American boy growing up in central Virginia during the late 19th century, Woodson had few educational or employment opportunities. He did not have the chance to attend school. In pursuit of a new life, he and his family moved to Huntington, West Virginia, where he worked in the New River Gorge coalfields to help supplement the family’s income. Finally, by the time he was 20, Woodson saved enough money from his days as a coal miner to begin his formal education at Douglass High School, one of the few black high schools at the time. He received his diploma in just two years, as he was already self-taught in basic reading and arithmetic. Woodson then went on to obtain his first collegiate degree from Berea College in Kentucky and continued his education at the University of Chicago obtaining another Bachelors and a Masters degree. In 1912, he earned his Ph.D. from Harvard University, making him the second black American, only following W.E.B. Du Bois, and the first person of enslaved parents to receive such a degree from the institution.
While studying for his own education, Woodson also held many teaching positions. As he immersed himself in the education world, he noticed the prevailing ignorance and lack of information concerning black life and history. In an attempt to correct such an obvious oversight, Woodson, in 1915, founded The Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, now the Association for the Study of African-American Life and History. The organization aimed to inform the American public of the contributions of black Americans in the formation of the country and its history and culture. The association had its headquarters at 1538 9th Street, NW in Washington, DC, in the basement and on the first floor, while Woodson resided on the second floor from 1922 to 1950. This Victorian row house is now a National Historic Site. The National Park Service and the Association for the Study of African-American Life and History are working as partners to restore the circa 1870s home.
As he ran the organization, Woodson also took on many other roles within the academic world. He taught at both the public school and collegiate
levels, trained researchers and other staff at the Association for the Study of African-American Life and History, and wrote books and articles on the subject that was his life’s work. Woodson held the position of dean at the School of Liberal Arts and Head of the Graduate Faculty at Howard University from 1919 to 1920. He also served as dean at West Virginia Collegiate Institute, now West Virginia State College. Although very well-respected and sought after in the academic arena, Woodson retired from teaching in 1922 to devote his full attention to the Association for the Study of African-American Life and History and to research and writing.
Woodson also started the academic publication of The Journal of Negro History, The Negro History Bulletin, and Associated Publishers, Inc. This publisher took on works others would not such as the writings of black scholars on African American history and acted as a fundraising component for The Association for the Study of African-American Life and History.
Carter G. Woodson’s best-known contribution occurs every February. He initiated celebration of the first Negro History Week in 1926, focusing on black history. Woodson chose the second week of February for Negro History Week because it corresponds with the birthdays of both Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. Over the years, support grew, and the week became a month in 1976. February of each year is now Black History Month. Today, people celebrate Black History Month in many ways, and schools across the nation take a closer look at African American history during the month of February.
Carter G. Woodson passed away at his Washington, DC, home on April 3, 1950. After his death, the public and a variety of organizations began to honor his many achievements through such activities as naming schools and a professorship at Berea College after him. The nation recognized his achievements in 2006 when the Carter G. Woodson Home became a unit of the National Park System. The National Park Service and the Association for the Study of African-American Life and History worked together to rehabilitate and restore the historic building, develop and install interpretative exhibits, and produce and distribute educational materials. A Historic Resource Study was completed in 2012 and serves as the basis for better understanding the site and creating interpretive information. The home is open to the public for tours on Thursdays, Friday, and Saturdays.
Last updated: June 14, 2019