Statue of Carter G. Woodson, "The Father of Black History," in Huntington, WV.
The theme of this week's Goat Rope is Black History and its many connections with West Virginia. If this is your first visit, please click on the earlier entries.
The fact that people anywhere are celebrating or thinking about the history of African Americans this month is largely due to the efforts of Carter G. Woodson, who lived from 1875 to 1950.
Woodson was born in Buckingham County, Virginia to parents who were former slaves. He and his brother moved to West Virginia to find work in the coal mines and his family eventually moved to Huntington in 1893.
One thing that he particularly enjoyed as a young man was listening as friends read aloud from newspapers and books and discussed current events. He said
In this circle the history of the race was discussed frequently, and my interest in penetrating the past of my people was deepened and intensified.
Woodson eventually attended and graduated from Douglass High School in Huntington. He attended college in Berea, Kentucky and went back to Huntington to serve as Douglass' principal. He traveled extensively and continued his studies at the Sorbonne and the University of Chicago and earned his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1912. Although he wasn't the first African-American to do so, he was the first son of slaves to reach this goal. In addition to other academic posts, Woodson served as Dean of the West Virginia Collegiate Institute, now West Virginia State University.
Woodson was at various times active in the NAACP and collaborated with Marcus Garvey, but the passion of his life was the study and preservation of black history. In 1915, he was involved in the creation of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History and published several books on various aspects of black history, including the influential textbook, The Negro in Our History. He also founded the Journal of Negro History in 1916. He paid for much of his historical activities out of his salary as an academic.
He campaigned with eventual success to have the second month of February set aside for the observation of black history. It has since grown into the whole month.
Interestingly, Woodson's passion for preserving African-American history was picked up by a contemporary scholar with West Virginia origins, Henry Louis Gates Jr., who with Kwame Anthony Appiah edited the Encyclopedia Africana.
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GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: ELEVATED