Association for the Study of Negro Life and History on the 50th anniversary of
the end of slavery... After 100 years it is still active. ASALH
The Greatest Black Generation: African Americans and the Civil War from Daryl Scott on Vimeo.
"Woodson earned a bachelor of letters degree from Berea, B.A. and M.A. degrees from the University of Chicago, and in 1912 a Ph.D. in history from Harvard University. He did all this while teaching full-time in Malden, W.Va. (1898-1900), serving as principal of Huntington's Frederick Douglass High School (1900-1903), and teaching in the Philippines (1903-1907). In 1907, while traveling on a six-month world tour, he conducted research at various libraries and studied for a semester at the Sorbonne in Paris.
"The Cause" Takes Root
In 1909 Woodson moved to Washington to work on his dissertation at the Library of Congress and teach in the District of Columbia public schools. Originally assigned to teach the eighth grade at Thaddeus Stevens School, Woodson soon transferred to Armstrong Manual Training School -- a vocational and technical high school, and in 1911, to M Street High School -- an elite black academic institution.
Washington's African-American schools had incorporated black history into the curriculum at all levels, and Woodson's commitment to the study and teaching of black history was solidified during his tenure there (Goggin 1993, 31).
In April 1915 Woodson published his first book, The Education of the Negro Prior to 1861. In June 1915 he traveled to Chicago to participate in the Exposition of Negro Progress (held to commemorate the 50th anniversary of emancipation) and to research and write. In September Woodson founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH), which he incorporated upon his return to Washington. Historians August Meier and Elliott Rudwick wrote of Woodson's effort:
"Coming to intellectual maturity amid the tide of disenfranchisement, sharecropping, Jim Crow and mob violence that marked what Rayford W. Logan has termed the 'nadir' in the fortunes of American blacks during the post-Civil War era, Woodson sought to build and popularize a serious interest in Negro history at the apogee of popular and scientific racism in Western thought" (Meier & Rudwick 1986, 2).
Woodson, like many Americans who came of age during the Progressive Era, believed that education was a catalyst for social action and an agent of social change. He believed that the history of African peoples in Africa and in the Americas would inspire black pride, "uplift the race" and destroy white racist beliefs and prejudices. Declared Woodson in a speech at Hampton Institute:
"We have a wonderful history behind us. ... If you are unable to demonstrate to the world that you have this record, the world will say to you, 'You are not worthy to enjoy the blessings of democracy or anything else.' They will say to you, 'Who are you anyway?' ... Let us, then, study ... this history ... with the understanding that we are not, after all, an inferior people. ... We are going back to that beautiful history, and it is going to inspire us to greater achievements. It is not going to be long before we can sing the story to the outside world as to convince it of the value of our history ... and we are going to be recognized as men" (Meier & Rudwick 1986, 9).
Woodson's commitment to the ASNLH was firmly rooted, and "the cause" became his life's passion and work. While the association was not the first organization established specifically to promote African-American history -- black intellectuals had founded the American Negro Historical Society of Philadelphia in 1897 and the Negro Society for Historical Research (Yonkers, N.Y.) in 1912 (Winston 1973, 19) -- Woodson singlehandedly made it the most successful and long-lived of its kind.
Just four months after establishing the association, Woodson published the first issue of the Journal of Negro History with money borrowed against his life insurance policy. The Journal provided a forum for black and white scholars to publish research on African-American history and culture and devoted a substantial portion of its pages to reprinting little-known primary documents.
Both the price of the Journal and the association's membership fees were kept low so as not to be prohibitive to the majority of African-Americans. This policy made it necessary for Woodson to contribute his own money and rely on white philanthropy. As a result, Woodson selected the association's officers and executive board members primarily on their ability to contribute or raise funds. Although the financial burden would have been lessened by affiliating with a black college or university, Woodson --fiercely independent -- adamantly refused such an affiliation and always stressed his autonomy.
&3A Brief Career in Academia. While working incessantly to promote "the cause" and to raise funds for the association, Woodson continued teaching and, in 1918, became principal of Armstrong Manual Training School. After just a year at Armstrong, Woodson became discouraged by the lack of support given to vocational education. He left to accept a position at Howard University and to begin his most fruitful decade.
That decade, however, did not begin smoothly. Joining the Howard faculty in the summer of 1919 as dean of the School of Liberal Arts and head of the history department, Woodson saw his new position as an opportunity to earn more money to contribute to the association, a chance to train young black historians that he could recruit to "the cause" and an occasion to devote more time to research and writing. However, he soon found himself locked in a series of disputes with J. Stanley Durkee, Howard's 11th (and last) white president.
Coming to the university in 1918, Durkee, an energetic and autocratic Congregationalist minister, was determined to shape the university to his own liking by reorganizing the entire academic structure and centralizing all authority, including that of the previously independent professional schools, in his hands. (Wolters 1975, 94-99).
In the winter of 1920, Woodson publicly criticized Durkee for damaging academic freedom by removing from the university library Elbert Rhys Williams's Seventy-Six Questions on the Bolsheviks and Soviets after a complaint from Sen. Reed Smoot. That spring Woodson balked at Durkee's order to monitor faculty attendance at daily chapel service and exacerbated their differences by organizing, without Durkee's permission, a series of continuing-education courses for Washington's public school teachers. Infuriated by Woodson's actions, Durkee rejected Woodson's conciliatory gestures and fired him before commencement in June 1920 (Goggin 1993, 50-53).
During Woodson's brief tenure at Howard, he introduced courses in black history in the School of Liberal Arts and organized the graduate program in history. Earlier efforts by Kelly Miller, Alain Locke, and others to institute courses in black studies and race relations had been rejected by Howard's predominantly white board of trustees. Historian Michael R. Winston attributes this rejection to the fact that "courses on race would help to more firmly identify the institution as black, and there were many who held fast to the conviction that Howard ought to be an institution for the education of 'youth' no matter what the realities of racial segregation in the United States" (Winston 1973, 21).
In late June, Woodson accepted with gratitude an invitation to become dean of the College Department of West Virginia Collegiate Institute (now West Virginia State College). "
An Essay on Carter G. Woodson
An Essay on Carter G. Woodson