Thursday, February 7, 2013

February 7: The First "Negro History Week"

On this date in history .... 1926:

The first “Negro History Week”, the precursor to “National Black History Month”, is observed. 

It was the brainchild of Carter G. Woodson, the son of former slaves who is considered the Father of Black History. The second week of February was selected since it included the birthdates of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.

After becoming the 2nd Black American to graduate from Harvard with a Ph.D. (W.E.B. DuBois was the first), he began working to include history of Black Americans in mainstream history. He was bothered that history books largely ignored the black population. One Harvard professor told him, “The Negro has no history” and Woodson set out to prove otherwise. He noted that African-American contributions "were overlooked, ignored, and even suppressed by the writers of history textbooks and the teachers who use them."

As a child, he went to school during the four months a year allowed to black children and learned to read from the Bible and newspapers. He worked in coal mines before he was able to attend high school.  He completed a 4-year high school curriculum in just two years. In 1920, as dean of School of Liberal Arts at Howard University, he created the first African-American survey course and founded the Associated Negro Publishers to promote publishing for African-Americans

He once wrote:
“If you can control a man’s thinking, you don’t have to worry about his actions. If you can determine what a man thinks you do not have to worry about what he will do. If you can make a man believe that he is inferior, you don’t have to compel him to seek an inferior status, he will do so without being told and if you can make a man believe that he is justly an outcast, you don’t have to order him to the back door, he will go to the back door on his own and if there is no back door, the very nature of the man will demand that you build one.”

He didn’t live long enough to see his “Negro History Week” turn into “Black History Month” but his devotion to putting the contributions of African Americans into the history books have been far-reaching.

Quoting from Wikipedia:  
“Woodson was ostracized by some of his contemporaries because of his insistence on defining a category of history related to ethnic culture and race. At the time, these educators felt that it was wrong to teach or understand African-American history as separate from more general American history. According to these educators, "Negroes" were simply Americans, darker skinned, but with no history apart from that of any other. Thus Woodson's efforts to get Black culture and history into the curricula of institutions, even historically Black colleges, were often unsuccessful.

Today African-American studies have become specialized fields of study in history, music, culture, literature and other areas; in addition, there is more emphasis on African-American contributions to general American culture. The United States celebrates Black History Month.”


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