Born on December 19, 1875 in New Canton, Virginia, Carter G. Woodson was the son of parents who had been enslaved. 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 earned his first collegiate degree from Berea College in Kentucky and continued his education at the University of Chicago, obtaining another Bachelor’s degree and a Master’s degree. In 1912, he earned his PhD from Harvard University, making him the second black American, only following W.E.B. Du Bois, and the first person of enslaved parentage to receive such a degree from the institution.
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 curriculum. He worked tirelessly throughout his life to remedy this problem, becoming nationally recognized as “the Father of Black History.”