Carter G. Woodson: Founder of Black History Month

By Lillian Williams

Black History Month is the annual February celebration of the achievements of African Americans in U.S. life and culture, though sadly it appears President Trump is rather confused about it. Read about that here.

Just to set the record straight, Black History Month was proclaimed officially by the U.S. government in 1976 when President Gerald Ford issued the presidential proclamation. Prior to that, African-American heritage was celebrated informally during the second week in February.

The National Museum of African American History and Culture, as well as community centers, libraries, and schools have scheduled special events this month to discuss African-American achievements and goals.


Carter G. Woodson

The famous historian, Carter G. Woodson, began this special celebration in 1926. Born in 1875, he was the son of freed slaves from Virginia and one of the first African Americans to receive a doctorate from Harvard University. Later he taught and became a dean at Howard University, as well as West Virginia Collegiate Institute.  He believed that younger generations often fail to appreciate their history.  He died in 1950.

Woodson also founded the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. He wrote, or co-wrote, more than 20 books, including “The Mis-Education of the Negro,” and “Negro Makers of History,” a copy of which I have in my living room in Chicago.

I’d like to share some of Woodson’s most memorable quotes:

  • “No man knows what he can do until he tries.”
  • “If you make a man feel that he is inferior, you do not have to compel him to accept an inferior status, for he will seek it himself.”
  • “I am a radical.”
  • “The oppressor has always indoctrinated the weak with his interpretation of the crimes of the strong.”
  • “In our so-called democracy, we are accustomed to give the majority what they want rather than educate them to understand what is best for them.”
  • “Cooperation implies equality of the participants in the particular task at hand.”
  • “Real education means to inspire people to live more abundantly, to learn to begin with life as they find it and make it better.”
  • “Those who have no record of what their forebears have accomplished lose the inspiration which comes from the teaching of biography and history.”
  • “History shows that it does not matter who is in power or what revolutionary forces take over the government, those who have not learned to do for themselves and have to depend solely on others never obtain any more rights or privileges in the end than they had in the beginning.”
  • “They are anxious to have everything the white man has even if it is harmful.”
  • “When you control a man’s thinking you do not have to worry about his actions. You do not have to tell him not to stand here or go yonder. He will find his “proper place” and will stay in it. You do not need to send him to the back door. He will go without being told. In fact, if there is no back door, he will cut one for his special benefit.”

If you have a favorite Carter G. Woodson quote, share it in the comment section below.

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