Dr. Carter G. Woodson: Great African Statesman

by Vernon M. Butler ( Founding Member Division 330 UNIA-ACL)
April 4th 1983 for the African Heritage Journal

    Carter Godwin Woodson (1875-1950), BA, MA, Ph..D., is truly a Black Hero whos philosophy and deeds should never be forgotten. He has proven to be one of the most important of the Black historians, authors, and social analysts of the 20th Century. He popularized Black History among the masses of people long before it was popular and valued. He recognized and acted upon the importance of a people having knowledge of its race and its contributions to civilization.

In June, 1909, Dr. Woodson moved to Washington, D.C. and found employment at the M St. High School, teaching French and Spanish. He moved to Washington so that he could be near the library of Congress and its vast resources. He located quarters at 1924 Eleventh St. N.W. , for he was in the process of writing his dissertation to receive his Ph.D. from Harvard. Three years later, in 1912, Harvard University awarded Woodson his doctorate. His dissertation had been, "The Education of the Negro prior to 1861", which became the nucleus of his first book, published in April, 1915.

    Apparently, during this time Woodson became affiliated with the recently organized Washington, D.C. branch of the NAACP, and its Chairman, Archibald Grimke. On January 28th , 1915, he wrote a letter to Grimke expressing his dissatisfaction with the way things were going. Woodson made two proposals in this letter; first, that the branch secure an office for a center to which persons may report whatever concerns the Negro race may have, and from which the Association may extend its operations into every part of the city. The second, that of which a canvasser would be appointed to enlist members and obtain subscriptions for the Crisis, the NAACP publication edited by W.E.B. Dubois, Dr. Woodson then added the daring proposal of "diverting patronage from business establishments which do not treat races alike." He wrote that he would cooperate as one of the twenty-five effective canvassers, adding that he would pay the rent for the office for one month. The NAACP did not welcome Dr. Woodsons ideas.

In a letter dated March 18th , 1915, in response to a letter from Grimke regarding his proposals, Woodson wrote, " I am not afraid of being sued by white businessmen. In fact, I should welcome such a law suit. It would do the cause much good. 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. Apparently, his difference of opinion contributed to the short-lived affiliation with the NAACP.

  On September 9th , 1915 in Chicago, Dr. Woodson met with Alexander L. Jackson, Executive Secretary of the new Negro YMCA branch. In addition to Woodson and Jackson, three other gentlemen were present; George C. Hall, W.B. Hargrove, and J.E. Stamps. At this meeting they formed the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, and appointed Dr. Woodson, Executive Director, which he held until his death.

The early years of the Association were difficult times, but it did not deter Woodson because on January 1st, 1916, he alone began to publish the Journal of Negro History, a quarterly publication. He distributed the first edition on his own initiative. The publishing of the Journal coincided with the year of the arrival of Marcus M. Garvey. In 1926, Woodson single-handedly pioneered the celebration of Black History Week, the second week in February, which has been extended to include the entire month of February. Because of Woodsons belief in self-reliance and racial respect, it is only natural that the paths of Dr. Woodson and the Hon. Marcus Garvey would cross; their views were very similar. Woodson became a regular columnist for Garveys weekly Negro World.

Dr, Woodsons political activism placed him in the eye of the storm and in contact with many Black intellectuals and activists of the 20s, 30s, and 40s. He corresponded with men like W.E.B. Dubois, John E. Bruce, Arthur A. Schomberg, Hubert H. Harrison, and T. Thomas Fortune to name a few. Even with the monumental duties connected with the Association, Woodson still found time to write extensive and scholarly works such as The History of the Negro Church (1922), Mis-Education of the Negro (1933), and many other books and articles as relevant today as they were when first published.

    He was never one to shy away from a controversial subject, and utilized the pages of the Negro World to add his contribution to the various debates in vogue at the time. One of these debates were over West Indian- Afro-American relations. Woodson summarized that "The West Indian Negro is free." He felt that it requires time and realistic education to emancipate people. These opinions were the result of observing and approving the efforts on the part of the West Indians to inject Black materials into their school curricula. Woodson remarked that, "the highly educated Negroes thought that Woodson was wrong to invite attention especially to the race."  They told Woodson that they were not  Negroes or Africans, they were Americans. Woodsons efforts to get Black culture and history into the curriculums of institutions were unsuccessful. This seems to be the reason why he left Howard University as its president.

Woodson was never deterred from his lifes work. He was truly a man of vision and understanding. He was a member of the highly EDUCATED element. The element to which he belonged by training, but not sentiment. Dr. Woodson spent his life introducing the Black race to its self. The Association which he started in 1915 remains today, with the Journal of Negro History still published as a quarterly magazine. Dr. Carter G. Woodson is a hero who must be canonized and remembered for generations to come.

Brother Vernon Butler went home and is an Ancestor today who we will always remember for his positive contributions to the community and the building of the Woodson-Banneker/Jackson-Bey Division 330 of the UNIA-ACL. Now in our 19th Year we celebrate the works of Vernon Butler and Hon. Wm. Henry Jackson-Bey for their unselfish service and sacrifices. May God Bless both of their beautiful families.

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