"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. His education makes it necessary."
Overcoming extreme poverty, racism, and other adversities Carter Godwin Woodson rose through the ranks of U. S. education and academia to discover that the representation of Black History and culture was not taught to students. Furthermore, even within Black academic circles, there was apathy and resistance to setting the historical record straight. With The Mis-Education of the Negro, Woodson strove to challenge the misconceptions and cultural amnesia prevalent in his day. This controvertial book was a call-to-arms for society and the educational system: "The so-called modern education, with all its defects, however, does others so much more good than it does the Negro, because it has been worked out in conformity to the needs of those who have enslaved and oppressed weaker people." He saw a system that distorted the identity of Black American students; a racist curriculum that internalized the humiliation and failures of their ancestors, rather than praising those ancestor's achievements. Mis-Education acts as a sharp critique and a pathway towards a new pedagogy that informed Black students about their own history and addressed their unique challenges. This is the book that launched a thousand afro-centric curricula across institutions and decades, and whose revolutionary message continues to act as a challenge and a warning to the current U. S. educational system.
About the Author
Carter Godwin Woodson was born December 29th, 1875, in Buckingham County, Virginia, the son of former slaves, James and Eliza Riddle Woodson.
Caught in the throes of deep poverty the Woodsons could not regularly send their children to school, though through self-education, Carter Woodson mastered the fundamentals of common school subjects by the age of 17.
Woodson worked as a miner in the coal fields to save up for his education. Eventually, at age 20, Woodson entered high school and achieved his diploma in less than two years. Immediately after he became a teacher, and was soon a school principal. During this time Woodson also earned his Bachelors in Literature from Berea College.
1903 to 1907 saw Woodson as a school supervisor in the Philippines.
Woodson earned an A.B. and A.M. from the University of Chicago in 1908, and completed his PhD. in History at Harvard in 1912.
He founded the Association of the Study of Negro Life and History in 1915 (it was renamed Association for the Study of African-American Life and History (ASALH), the same year he published The Education of the Negro Prior to 1861. In 1916 Woodson launched the scholarly Journal of Negro Historywhich continues publication to this day (renamed the Journal of African American History in 2002).
He conceived of, and promoted, the first Negro History Week in Washington, D.C., in 1926, the forerunner of Black History Month.
Woodson was briefly associated with the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), but after disagreements with the strategies of the organization and its chairman, he ended his affiliation.
Woodson’s political activism placed him at the center of a circle of many black intellectuals and activists from the 1920s to the 1940s, including W.E.B. Du Bois, John E. Bruce, Arturo Alfonso Shomburg, Hubert H. Harrison, and T. Thomas Fortune, among others.
His efforts to redefine the existing pedagogy as it related to African-American History caused a rift with some of his contemporaries, and he struggled (often unsuccessfully) to convince academia to create curricula for Black History and culture. He faced resistance even within historically Black colleges. Woodson took these set-backs and frustrations and channeled them into the publication of The Mis-Education of the Negro, in 1933.
In 1920 Woodson created Associated Publishers, the oldest African-American publishing company in the U.S. The publisher’s goal was to enable the publication of books concerning Black history and culture that might not have been otherwise supported by the industry.
Relentlessly inquisitive, Woodson continued to publish books and articles throughout his life, among them: A Century Of Negro Migration (1918), The History of the Negro Church (1921), African Myths and Folktales (1928), African Heroes and Heroines (1939). His most cherished project, a six-volume Encyclopedia Africana, was incomplete at the time of his death in Washington, D.C., on April 3rd, 1950, aged 74.
His influence and legacy is profound and ongoing. A book award in his name was established in 1974; The United States Postal Service issued a stamp honoring him in 1984, and his home was designated a historic site, among other tributes.
In recent years, as Americans in general—and African-Americans in particular—have struggled with mounting and devastating social, political and law-enforcement crises, many are rediscovering Woodson’s challenging and revolutionary ideas; ideas whose clarity of vision and will serve as inspiration for a new generation of social activists.