Henry Louis Gates Jr. on Carter G. Woodson: Open Letter to Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Harvard University. from the Executive Council-Association for the Study of African American Life and History 25 March 2003

Article excerpt

Dear Dr. Gates:

As you may know, Dr. Carter G. Woodson and others founded the Association for the Study of African American History (ASALH) in 1915. Following Dr. Woodson's death in 1950, the members of the ASALH have done their best to continue Dr. Woodson's enormous legacy through the convening of an annual convention, the sponsorship of the "Black History Month Kit," and the publication of The Black History Bulletin and The Journal of African American History (formerly The Journal of Negro History). In carrying out these activities, the ASALH seeks the support of philanthropic foundations and many other groups and individuals who share Dr. Woodson's concern and commitment to telling the truth about the history and culture of African peoples in the United States and throughout the world.

Therefore, we must call your attention to the historically inaccurate and misleading account of Dr. Woodson's involvement in the decision by the General Education Board (GEB) not to fund Dr. W. E. B. Du Bois's Encyclopedia of the Negro project in 1938. In your presentation at the Plenary Session on Saturday, 8 February 2003 at the conference on "The State of Black Studies: Methodology, Pedagogy, and Research," held at CUNY Graduate Center in New York City, you stated that Dr. Du Bois, through Anson Phelps Stokes of the Phelps-Stokes Fund, had applied to the GEB for financial support for the proposed encyclopedia project. You described in detail the preparations made by Du Bois and historian Rayford Logan, his assistant on the project, on the evening of 6 April 1938, in anticipation of a telephone call from Anson Stokes notifying them that they had received the grant. You indicated that "champagne was placed on ice" to toast the event. Unfortunately, the telephone call never came. In your telling of the incident, you stated that the encyclopedia project had not been funded by the GEB because of the objections of one person, "Carter G. Woodson."

However, you are seriously misinformed about how that decision was made. Dr. Woodson was not even consulted by the GEB board members when they made the final decision in 1938 not to fund the encyclopedia project. Indeed, Dr. David Levering Lewis provides a well-documented description of these events in W. E. B. Du Bois: The Fight for Equality and the American Century, 1919-1963 (New York, 2000). Dr. Lewis also reported that in the afternoon on 7 April 1938, while waiting for the telephone call from Phelps Stokes, "Du Bois and Logan passed the tension over cigarettes and small talk, as the bottle of excellent champagne nestled in its crib of ice" (p. 447).

Dr. Lewis had interviewed Dr. Rayford Logan about the incident, and Dr. …