Nearly one century ago, Carter G. Woodson (1875-1950), the only individual of slave parentage to be awarded a Ph.D. in history, began laying the foundations for the current advanced state of African American history and Black Studies. Several years after earning his doctorate from Harvard University in 1912, Woodson published his first monograph, The Education of the Negro Prior to 1861 (New York: Putnam's, 1915), and established the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH). According to Woodson, the Association, which he co-founded in Chicago with George Cleveland Hall, James E. Stamps, and Alexander L. Jackson, outlined its function to encompass "the collection of sociological and historical data" on African Americans, "the study of peoples of African blood, the publishing of books in this field, and the promotion of harmony between the races by acquainting the one with the other" (Woodson 1925, p. 598). During Woodson's lifetime, the Association served as the nationally recognized movement center for the advancement of black history. Unlike most scholarly organizations during the era of segregation, black or white, the membership of the ASNLH represented a diverse cross section of the black community, including professionals, intellectuals, school teachers, non-formally trained scholars, and youth.
Founded in 1926, The Journal of Negro History (hereafter JNH) was the first professional, scholarly journal devoted to the study of black history. Recognizing the lack of black owned presses, in 1922 Woodson founded the Associated Publishers in Washington, D.C. and published the first major textbook on black history, The Negro in Our History. In 1926, he received the NAACP's Spingarn Medal and launched his most famous program, Negro History Week, a multifaceted attempt at integrating black history into the public school system, raising black cultural consciousness, and dismantling American racism. During the peak of the Great Depression in 1933, Woodson published his most famous, still popular, and often mis-understood book, The Mis-Education of the Negro. Beginning in 1937, he published The Negro History Bulletin (hereafter NHB), an informative, straight-forward black history magazine which sought to introduce black history, culture, and politics to an audience beyond the JNH readership. In roughly four decades of scholarly productivity, Woodson wrote, co-authored, and/or edited more than twenty studies, more than a dozen major articles, and countless newspaper columns and book reviews. Between 1915 and 1950, Woodson developed and adopted his strategies of black uplift and proactive social reform to suit the broader transformations in American society and the black community. He adjusted smoothly to the multitude of changes generated by the Harlem Renaissance, the Great Depression and the New Deal, and the Second World War and its aftermath.
Along with countless other professionally and nonprofessionally trained scholars, Woodson was an important member of the proto Black Studies Movement. This African American "vindicationist tradition" (Franklin 1995; Franklin and Collier-Thomas 1996) included many black scholars who during the era of Jim Crow segregation laid the foundations for the modern Black Studies Movement. W.E.B. Du Bois has probably been the most widely acknowledged member of this black scholarly tradition. While this group was by no means philosophically monolithic, they were bound together in meaningful ways. They were largely excluded from what Molefi Kete Asante has called "white stream" institutions (Asante 2001). For the most part, they did not have access to certain benefits and resources located in exclusive white scholarly outposts. They, in turn, created viable, productive autonomous academic institutions, scholarly approaches, and practical strategies for black mental and psychological liberation. Darlene Clark Hine (2003) has called these niches "parallel institutions" (p. 1279). The overarching philosophical outlook of many black scholars during the era of Jim Crow segregation dictated that they create productive epistemologies which established, validated, and promoted the rigorous study of black life while simultaneously directly challenging white ethnocentric scholarship and social thought. In the case of Woodson in particular, he foreshadowed modern Black Studies scholars in stressing that the study of African descendants be scholarly sound, creative, restorative, and, most importantly, directly relevant to the black community. Scholars concerned with defining the purpose and function of Black Studies could learn a great deal from critically revisiting Woodson's worldview and program.
One of Woodson's most important contributions to the proto (pre Black Power era) Black Studies Movement was his mission and ability to transform black history into a practical and popular medium for uplifting blacks and challenging racial prejudice. He revolutionized the American historical profession and democratized the study of black history by extending the discipline to various non-professionally groups of trained scholars. In adopting this approach, he did not de-emphasize the role of scientific scholarship in the "life-and-death struggle" for black liberation. On the other hand, he maintained that in addition to being founded on meticulous research, the study and dissemination of black history needed to extend to the working-class and youthful sectors of the black community. Woodson reasoned that the knowledge of African American history was, after all, an important and practical, though nonmaterial, way in which black people could become liberated and empowered. Between 1915 and 1950 (increasingly more by the 1920s), he strove to enlighten the black masses, popularizing black history in a variety of innovative ways. He extended himself as a resource to black communities throughout the country. Woodson opened the doors of the Association meetings and activities to lay historians, ministers, secondary and elementary school teachers, businessmen, and the black community as a whole. He initiated Negro History Week and other extension services. One of his most important contributions was the NHB, an essential, yet often overlooked, outlet for not only Woodson himself but countless black thinkers representing a wide-spectrum of the black community.
Several questions help us frame Woodson's contributions to the proto Black Studies Movement. What influenced and motivated Woodson to adopt an essentially pragmatic approach to history? In what particular manners did he democratize the study and dissemination of black history? How did he successfully mesh his nineteenth-century idea that history consisted of the collection and presentation of "facts" with his more progressive philosophy that history could uplift and empower blacks? How did Woodson use his popular scholarly medium to introduce his readers to contemporary social and political realities and concerns? How did Woodson's ideas about class differences within the black community shape his approach to history? This article explores how after founding the ASNLH, Woodson democratized, legitimized, and popularized black history, while paying close attention to his diversified clientele.
Woodson's Early Quest to Popularize Black History
In searching for the origins of Woodson's concern with popularizing black history and facilitating cross-class and cross-generational dialogues and interactions, a logical starting point is his upbringing and early years. Historian Jacqueline Goggin has detailed Woodson's early years, connecting them to his "life's work" with the ASNLH from 1922 until 1950 (Goggin 1993, pp. 1-65). Raised by former slaves and sharecroppers, Woodson came from very humble origins which he remembered. A seasoned manual laborer from his early childhood until his twenties, Woodson probably identified strongly with the children of black coal miners whom he taught from 1898 until 1900 in Winona, West Virginia.
After receiving the Ph.D. degree from Harvard University in 1912, Woodson began publishing a genre of historical scholarship which was accessible to a wide range of readers. In fact, he wrote in such a simple language that some of his modern critics have considered him unsophisticated. Historians August Meier and Elliott Rudwick (1986) have claimed that "Woodson, unlike Du Bois, did not produce monographs that are read and admired to this day," that he "did not function as an influential historian through his own monographs" (p. 71). Meier and Rudwick judged Woodson's scholarship based upon its existence in the "white stream" academy. They failed to place his scholarship within the context of his pragmatic philosophy of black history. Woodson published several brands of scholarship: in the vindicationist tradition, rigorous, scientific scholarship to combat racist scholarship; polemical commentaries in order to address black America's contemporary status in American society; and books aimed at attracting a wide readership from elementary school students to university students. This last collection of books included The Negro in Our History (1922), Negro Makers of History, (1928), African Myths Together with Proverbs (1928), The African Background Outlined (1936), and African Heroes and Heroines (1939). The unfinished Encyclopedia Africana was also written in a very simple language. Woodson valued his practical history texts. Several years before it was actually published, in the Journal in 1919, Woodson advertised The Negro in Our History as a study for use in black history clubs, elementary and high schools, and colleges and universities. He declared that it was an effort to "inculcate in the mind of the youth of African blood an appreciation of what their race has thought and felt and done" (Woodson 1919, p.474).
It is difficult to discern how black youth and laypersons were impacted by Woodson's writings. The Associated Publishers struggled throughout its existence. According to one of Woodson's "boys," Lorenzo Johnston Greene, in 1930 many boxes of the Association's books were literally collecting mildew in the Association headquarters' basement (Strickland 1996). During Woodson's lifetime, there was not a high demand for black history books among the general black populace. In the early 1940s, poet Sterling Brown declared that the hardest task facing black authors was "developing a critical but interested reading public" (B town 1941, pp. 145-146). Working-class blacks, especially during the lean years of the Great Depression, did not place a high priority on purchasing hard-cover scholarly literature. As Greene testified during his ASNLH book selling campaigns, black professionals usually purchased the Association's literature (Strickland 1996). The Negro in Our History was Woodson's most popular book. By March of 1941, roughly 40,000 copies of his text had been sold.
Woodson's interaction with various sub-groups within black communities went beyond simply using the written word. Early on, the ASNLH developed connections to the heart of black communities. Every year during Woodson's lifetime, the Association meetings were held in black churches, community centers, colleges and universities, and high school auditoriums throughout the country. Several decades ago, one scholar has noted that the first time that an Association meeting was held in a major hotel was in 1964 in Detroit (Romero 1971, p. 121). While the breakfasts, luncheons, and dinners attracted a certain high-brow crowd and the Executive Council held its own private business meetings, the keynote speakers, panel discussions, and presentations and pageants were attended by a broader spectrum of the black community. Unlike any other academic organization of its time, the ASNLH welcomed non professional scholars into its ranks and even into its leadership positions. A perusal of the JNH from 1916 through Woodson's death indicates that at annual meetings, school teachers and community activists, including many club women, presented papers and in many cases even had their essays published in the pages of the JNH alongside the research of leading black and white scholars. Woodson provided a unique forum which encouraged serious, widespread participation in black historical discourse from various angles and vantage points.
Woodson's most famous and perhaps most effective effort at attracting a mass following and popularizing the study of black history was through Negro History Week celebrations. However, before he inaugurated this celebration in 1926, Woodson publicized black history in other ways. During the era of Jim Crow segregation, Woodson and his entourage were among the most demanded lecturers in the black community nationwide. Woodson himself spoke at countless venues throughout his lifetime for minimal fees. L.D. Reddick recounted that during his childhood in Jacksonville, Florida, Woodson was easily "the most impressive speaker" that he had heard, that the manner in which he handled himself before his audience, his electricity, and his dedication to "the cause," influenced the young Reddick to join the "Negro History Movement" (Reddick 1953, p. 36). Woodson also corresponded with countless men and women from all around the world interested in black history. He answered their questions, commented on papers, and mailed them information pertaining to black history. Since its inception, Woodson commented in "Ten Years of Collecting and Publishing the Records of the Negro," the Association had functioned as a "free reference bureau" (Woodson 1925, pp. 598-606).
Early on in the Association's history, Woodson sought to gain a mass following with different outreach programs. By 1919, he employed J.E. Ormes, formerly in the business department of Wilberforce University, as a field agent. Ormes' role was to increase membership in the Association, appoint agents to sell books and subscriptions to the Journal, and organize black history clubs. In the early years of the ASNLH, Woodson called upon any interested individuals to join his cause. In 1919, he noted that "any five persons desiring to prosecute studies" in black history could have organized a club. Each club was required to pay the Association $2.00, a small fee which entitled the club to a year's subscription to the Journal and access to Woodson, by mail, for advice and the necessary instruction. He often sent clubs bibliographies and outlines for study. Woodson required only that the clubs elect a president, a secretary, a treasurer, and an instructor, in his words the group's "most intelligent and the best informed member" (Woodson 1919, p. 237; Woodson 1919, p. 347).
Such early efforts from Woodson seemed to have been recognizably effective. Several years before the first Negro History Week celebration, he commented that he had succeeded in convincing schools and colleges to "devote more time to the study of Negro life and history" and that "a larger number of persons" were becoming interested in the Association's work (Woodson 1924, p. 239). By the mid 1920s, Woodson noted that black history clubs officially linked to the Association were found in practically all of the cites with considerable black populations. Before Negro History Week, Woodson also attempted to stir interest in black history among the youth with financial incentives. In 1924, for instance, in collaboration with the American Folklore Society, the ASNLH offered a $200.00 prize "for the best collection of tales, riddles, proverbs, sayings, and songs, which have been heard at home by Negro students of accredited schools" (Woodson 1924, p. 239). The ASNLH offered many similar scholarly awards.
Negro History Week
Woodson founded Negro History Week in 1926. He explained the reason behind the celebration in a pamphlet "widely distributed" months before the first celebration was to take place during the second week in February of 1926, in commemoration of Frederick Douglass's and Abraham Lincoln's birthdays. In a JNH article entitled "Negro History Week," Woodson (1926) told his readers that blacks knew "practically nothing" about their history and that without this knowledge "the race" could become "a negligible factor in the thought of the world" and stood "in danger of being exterminated" (p. 238-242).
Woodson believed that race prejudice, from segregation to violence, resulted from the widely accepted notion that black people had not contributed anything of worth to world civilization. Black history for Woodson could instill within African Americans, especially the youth, a sense of pride and self-worth while also helping diminish racist thought. Woodson possessed similar values to his predecessors, as earlier studies have demonstrated (Thorpe 1971 ; Quarles 1979; Franklin 1986), but he more strongly believed that black history could play a key role in socializing Americans.
Negro History Week was the first major achievement in popularizing black history and was unique in that it focused on the black youth. Woodson aggressively K-12 schools. Woodson's strategy of gradually introducing black history as a supplement to "white stream" American history was pragmatic. His philosophy of gradualism prevented his plan from being too easily dismissed. As he noted in "How Shall We Celebrate Negro History Week," a modest week-long celebration during the winter season appeared much less threatening to the white public, philanthropists, and to those "highly mis-educated Negroes" whom he sought to convert into devout black nationalists (Woodson 1945, 84, 86, 90-91; Woodson 1933/1990).
Woodson's vision of Negro History Week was optimistic and long-term. This seemingly token celebration was to serve as a stepping stone toward the gradual introduction of black history into the curricula of educational institutions, from the elementary school years through college, throughout American communities, black and white. He wanted Negro History Week to evolve into "Negro History Year," as he noted from time to time. Routinely, Woodson instructed those observing the week that they needed to diligently prepare for the celebration months in advance and that after mid-February they needed to continue acknowledging the role of African descendants in world history. "Negro History Week should be a demonstration of what has been done in the study of the Negro during the year and at the same time as a demonstration of greater things to be accomplished," he instructed school teachers, "A subject which receives attention one week out of the thirty-six will not mean much to anyone" (Woodson 1938, p. 12; Woodson 1946, p. 188).
According to Woodson in an annual director's report, soon after he mailed out his first "Negro History Week Circulars" to various educational institutions, presses, fraternal and social welfare organizations, literary societies, and radio stations, "there was a stir in the direction of active participation" and "there were few places in the country where this celebration did not make some impression" (Woodson 1926, p. 551). Woodson offered to those interested concrete programs along with research and promotional materials which highlighted black achievements, from ancient times in Africa to contemporary times. In pamphlets and NHB articles, he routinely instructed participants to organize committees for the celebration months before Negro History Week. He outlined critical steps to success, including advertising, fundraising, interviewing community elders, preserving black historical documents, organizing black history clubs, and re-enacting the struggles of black Americans. He added special suggestions to school teachers about maximizing the involvement of the youth in practical ways.
During the Negro History celebrations there were banquets, breakfasts, speeches, parades, exhibits, and lectures which were usually held in churches, black colleges and universities, and community centers. Woodson insisted that a significant number of the events be free to the public. For this week, he stressed that speakers and organizers donate their time to the cause. School teachers, mainly black women, were vital Negro History Week organizers. After its inception, Negro History Week continued to expand. Woodson frequently described the success of his various programs in black communities. During the Great Depression, he even noted that Negro History Week was finding its way into white schools, facilitating better race relations (Woodson 1932, pp. 119-123). With each passing year, the black and occasionally the white press advertised local and national events. Various radio stations were also instrumental in publicizing and broadcasting Negro History Week events. By the 1940s Negro History Week celebrations were increasingly popular. Woodson developed elaborate programming schedules. In November of 1948, in order to help rural schools with little or no resources, Woodson introduced Negro History Week Kits at $2.00 apiece. At first, the kits included writings and speeches by famous blacks as well as a play depicting black history. Two years later, they were revised by Woodson to also include many photos of famous blacks as well as a list of books for further research. The cost for this edition was $2.50.
The Negro History Weeks of Woodson's times were much more different than most Black History Month celebrations of the current era. Since the end of the Black Power era, along with other facets of African American popular culture, Black History Month celebrations have been commodified, watered down, and tokenized by a capital-driven American popular culture. For Woodson, it was of the utmost importance for the people themselves, especially the children, to create their own unique, personalized celebrations. In October of 1941, he offered the following advice to school teachers: "Do not call in some silver-tongued orator to talk to your school about the history of the Negro. The orator does not generally have much in his head. His chief qualification is strong lungs--a good bellows. He knows very little about things in general and practically nothing about the Negro in particular except how to exploit the race. Let the children study the history of the race, and they will be the speakers who will put the spellbinder to shame" (Woodson 1941, p. 24).
As Negro History Week become more popular, Woodson believed that there was a class of people who were exploiting the celebration for their own benefit. In the JNH and the NHB, he routinely warned his readers about "the disastrous methods of pseudo-historians among Negroes exaggerating in spectacular fashion facts of minor importance" in order capitalize on a movement and transform it into a commercial venture. He was especially enraged with those "impostors" and "mix-informants," mainly entertainers, who, under the name of the ASNLH, made large profits during mid February. At one point, Woodson even demanded that they turn over their earnings to the Association, and he called upon Negro History Week organizers to boycott those "mischievous orators" and instead call upon one of the many historians whom he had trained (Woodson 1936, p. 106-107).
Woodson was disturbed because as late as 1945 many students and teachers celebrated Negro History Week by calling upon lecturers and because many school books on the black past "found their way to some shelf where they serve mainly to catch a portion of dust raised in that room." In one sense, he admitted the shortcomings of Negro History Week to penetrate into the psyche of American society. "it is evident then," he noted, "that our supplementary books on the Negro supplement nothing in most of our schools" (Woodson 1945, p. 144).
Despite Woodson's frequent pessimism, which counter-balanced his unrelenting faith that his people could humanize American culture, Negro History Week was a monumental movement. School children were probably the most highly transformed by these events. In "What Children Should Do in Observing Negro History Week," Woodson instructed children to "make a study" of their school's history; collect newspaper articles on "prominent" blacks in their county, city, or state: explore the history of blacks in the professions: and create a play or pageant which represented "every phase of life and every phase of struggle through which the race has come" (Woodson 1938, p. 12).
Throughout the late 1930s and 1940s, NHB readers, especially female school teachers, wrote to Woodson sharing with him, often in great detail, how they conducted their Negro History Week celebrations and how the processes had influenced them and others. Woodson often published these commentaries in the NHB. Many testified that Negro History Week had helped transform their cultural and political consciousness. Carrie E. Johnson, a school teacher from Troy, Alabama, told Woodson that his work "has been my greatest inspiration in making me want to devote all my time to the study of my race" (Woodson 1949, p. 135).
Many of Woodson's colleagues also believed that Negro History Week was his "most characteristic creation." In paying tribute to Woodson, L.D. Reddick noted that "his greatest influence upon the public mind came through Negro History Week," that the effect of Negro History Week on African Americans' self-confidence, poise, desire to achieve, and morale "defies measurement," and that this "mass education program" and "God-send for the Association" pleased Woodson to "no end" and upon several occasions he deemed it the Association's most valuable contribution (Reddick 1950, p. 178-179, 188). Woodson routinely extended himself during February. In 1933, during the peak of the Great Depression, he spent not only the week of Negro History Week lecturing at various venues, but the next month "in the field," lecturing and helping people organize throughout the country. "By far," Woodson (1933) reflected "the greatest stimulus given to the educational work of the Association in recent years has been the observance of Negro History Week" (p. 362).
The impact of Negro History Week went beyond the black community during Woodson's lifetime. In 1949, Morris U. Schappes, a member of the American Jewish Historical Society, informed Woodson that at their annual meeting in February they decided to observe Jewish History Week from April 24 until April 30. He told Woodson that their decision was influenced by the success of Negro History Week. Woodson took pride in this wide-reaching impact of the Association's work, telling blacks that the cultural nationalism of their Jewish counterparts was instructive (Woodson 1949, p. 136; Woodson 1949, p. 194).
The ASNLH's Extension Division and the Home Study Department
In 1927, Woodson established the Association's Extension Division in order to expose more people to black history through public lectures and correspondence study. The Home Study Department was necessary in Woodson's view because it could educate teachers who would then in turn teach the black youth about their history and because all blacks needed to know their history. This process of education involves the passing on of information through a series of closely interactive stages and levels. In a tone reminiscent of Booker T. Washington when he advertised Tuskegee Institute's Movable School, or Jesup Agricultural Wagon (Denton 1993), Woodson asserted that the Home Study Program took the school to the student. Woodson's program offered courses at introductory and advanced levels. Only those with a high school education and the commitment were encouraged to apply for admission. While Woodson sought to make the study of black history and life more accessible, he refused to de-legitimize the scholarly endeavor by abandoning standards. One had to apply for admission and pay a $5.00 matriculation fee. Tuition for one course was $20.00. Two classes could be taken for $35.00 and three classes could be taken for $52.00. Students had a maximum of one year to finish the requirements for each course, including the passing of a final examination. Woodson encouraged students to complete the assigned work in two to three months (Woodson 1928, pp. 115-119).
Each introductory course was accompanied by a series of lessons with specific readings and suggestions. After completing these lessons, the student would ideally answer some questions and mail the responses back to the instructor who would then review it and mail it back to the student with the appropriate comments. Advanced courses were offered to college graduates. More flexible in nature than their introductory counterparts, classes were arranged with input from both the students and the professors. Woodson assured the public that the standards of the Home Study Department were equal to those of "accredited colleges and universities," that nothing is hastily done," and that "every student is guaranteed personal attention" (Woodson 1928, pp. 117-119). The Home Study Department, offered Anthropology, Art, English, History, Literature, and Sociology. The teaching staff boasted leading scholars in the African-American community, including Woodson himself, Charles H. Wesley, Alain Locke, E. Franklin Frazier, Luther Porter Jackson, James Hugo Johnston, and Charles Johnson. At the end of the course, each student received a certificate which noted the amount of work which was accomplished. Full credit was granted only to those who passed the final examination. The Home Study Department did not appear to be successful in terms of enrollment. It did not spread its roots into the black community like Negro History Week. Several years after it was founded, the Home Study Department had a very low enrolment mainly because of the fees and the standards of admission. Woodson still had a positive outlook, noting that those who did manage to finish were prepared to instruct others (Woodson 1930, p. 396).
The Negro History Bulletin (NHB)
The last major extension work undertaken by the Association Director was the founding of the NHB. By the mid 1930s, Woodson wanted to increase his regular readership among black youth, the black working-class, black elementary and secondary school teachers, and non academics in general.
The NHB had many functions. Written in a simple language to help black teachers who had little or no knowledge about black history, it supplemented "white stream" American history text books at the time. The NHB was the vehicle by which school teachers, and other concerned citizens, helped Woodson take black history into the homes of the black masses. The magazine served as an advertising mechanism for the ASLNH's activities, especially for Negro History Week. It also served as a platform with which blacks, from elementary school children to community activists to school teachers to professional scholars, openly discussed and even published their thoughts about black history. Woodson stressed to potential contributors that only serious articles dealing with black history would be considered. The NHB was not an entertainment magazine. Woodson also used the NHB as another one of his ideological platforms.
The first issue of the Bulletin was introduced in October of 1937 and, like the rest of the volumes during Woodson's life time, appeared nine times throughout the year, coinciding with the months of the school year. Until the late 1940s, a year's subscription was $1.00 (or 12 to 15 cents a copy) and for some time clubs of five people or more could secure the magazine for only 45 cents a year. Woodson also offered bulk rate discounts. By the time of his death in 1950, the subscription price had only risen to $2.00 a year or 25 cents a copy. Woodson kept the price low and in fact sold the NHB at a loss in order to maintain a higher readership. Though Woodson was the managing editor, the editorial and managing boards were dominated by black women (Dagbovie 2003). They wrote many of the articles, organized and ran the magazine, and encouraged children to begin their historical studies early. Individual issues of the NHB focused on certain topics and themes in black American history. Woodson adopted this approach so that regular subscribers would have a relatively comprehensive history at the end of the year. He also sold back issues bound in one volume.
Between 1937 and 1950, issues contained biographical sketches, simple book reviews, questions for the readers, many photographs, current events, art work by leading black artists, a "Book of the Month" section, poetry, information about Africa and the Diaspora, suggestions for Negro History Week, plays, and various primary sources. Of particular importance in terms of socializing black communities and cultivating within blacks' minds black historical consciousnesses were the "Children's Page," the discussions initiated by teachers, and Woodson's polemical columns.
The NHB aimed at instilling young blacks with pride in their history and culture. In October of 1941, a formal "Children's Page" was introduced. The female editorial staff as well as other female readers suggested to Woodson that a section of the magazine be officially designated for children. Increasingly after its debut, the thoughts, prose, and ideas of children were featured in the NHB as a method of influencing other youngsters to seriously study black history. Each issue's "Children's Section" challenged readers to answer questions pertaining to the monthly theme and quizzed about how they could best facilitate a Negro History Week celebration. Under the guidance of Howard Universitytrained artist Lois Mailou Jones, the young readers during the early 1940s were also provided a picture to color or paint, a mask to cut out and wear, or a sculpture to cut out of a bar of soap. While Jones gave her readers very clear instructions, as indicated in a NHB article the children were challenged to think creatively ("The Saturday Morning Art Class" 1942, p. 158).
The NHB also served as a dynamic discussion forum for teachers pertaining to curriculum development, politics, black history, and teaching. In a sense, the pages of the NHB belonged to black school teachers, serving as their autonomous space for generating epistemologies of black history. Woodson encouraged this ownership and dialogue by assuring them that the magazine belonged to them and by publishing their ideas just as he published the scholarship of intellectuals in the JNH. Woodson also solicited their suggestions and published them from time to time. The NHB was unique in that it was one of the only journals open to black female teachers.
Woodson's image and voice, however, often resonated above his school teacher counterparts. In every issue of the NHB, Woodson wrote at least one column with which he addressed problems faced by black Americans, defined his philosophy of history, and/or provided his readers with potential solutions. Throughout the pages of the NHB, Woodson articulated his vision of how history could serve mankind. He never really altered his fundamental belief that history entailed the objective laying down of "the facts." While he certainly did emphasize black achievements and at times employed history as some form of "propaganda," a tactic he himself despised, he insisted to NHB readers that "real history requires the elimination of self ... Facts properly set forth will tell their own story" (Woodson 1938, p. 11). Woodson also wanted history to be a major part of black people's everyday life. He used columns to call upon blacks to act and change the course of history. For the Association founder, the status of black people was a "life-and-death struggle." He shared with Marcus Garvey a fear that black people faced the possibility of extermination. In an essay appearing in the February 1940 issue of the NHB, Woodson challenged his readers to do great things based upon the deeds of their ancestors. History was for Woodson a tool of inspiration. He pleaded: "To you, then, comes the challenge as to what you will do in building upon the foundation which they have laid. These people whose civilization was marked by the kerosene lamp, the wash tub, the hoe, and the ox-cart disappointed the prophets who said they would be exterminated; and on the contrary they enrolled themselves among the great. What will you do in the day of the moving picture, the radio, and the aeroplane? If we do not take hold where they left off and advance further in the service of truth and justice, we are unworthy to claim descent from such a noble people" (Woodson 1940, p. 79, italics added).
Woodson wanted blacks to study history seriously and to genuinely incorporate it into their worldviews. He constantly reminded his readers that the purpose of Negro History Week was not to simply acknowledge and celebrate blacks' accomplishments for one week. On the other hand, Woodson argued that black history should be taught everyday in the classrooms; that knowledge that blacks do have a history could significantly decrease race prejudice; and that if blacks knew their history they would be inspired to act. Woodson's straight-forward philosophy of history as explained in the NHB was very non-elitist. For instance, he believed that children could be historians by recording their families' pasts and that even those not formally educated could be historians of some sort by writing down, in whatever language, the histories of their communities. Woodson firmly held that the history of black Americans, despite their oral traditions, needed to be recorded, written down, and catalogued by black people. He did not deem anyone who recorded historical "facts" a historian. Yet, he was committed to demystifying one function of the black scholar, stimulating interest in black history and the historical profession, and highlighting the simplicity of history.
Woodson also used the NHB to indict white America for mistreating blacks while celebrating blacks' abilities to persevere. But, he did not neglect to critique his fellow black Americans. In an essay in a volume devoted to the black church, Woodson asserted that black churches were too emotional, plagued by disunity, and lacked concrete philosophies of social uplift. He was especially critical of the exploitative preacher. "He will come to the church at times during the week to fire the hearts of the 'seeker," Woodson (1939) charged, "but after he receives his collection he is ready to retire to some other part of the city because he does not care to dwell in their district" (p. 9). Woodson concluded that such behavior existed because "most trained ministers were miseducated" (Woodson 1939, p. 9). Perhaps he critiqued the black church because he realized the potential it had in regenerating black America.
Woodson also continued his attack on black intellectuals and the black middle-class in the Bulletin. More than five years after The Mis-Education of the Negro was first published, in an article entitled "Suggestions for Improvements in the Education of the Negro," Woodson described the typical black graduate from Yale, Harvard, Columbia, and Princeton as being useless. A graduate of Harvard himself, Woodson used such generalizations in order to hopefully spark debates and critical conversations. The black college graduate in Woodson's estimation was one "equipped to begin the life of an Americanized or Europeanized white man," as one without the proper training to help the masses of his people. These "intellectuals," Woodson added, despised Africa and its descendants. Woodson claimed that their aping of white people would not help themselves or American culture. He instructed blacks to "learn to do what whites cannot do" and then make the world "much better off' with these gifts. Woodson advocated a "revolution" in the American educational system, calling for institutions which would be molded to the conditions of black Americans (Woodson 1939, p. 29-31).
In a later issue of the NHB, perhaps in reference to black participation in Gunnar Myrdal's An American Dilemma (1944) or Du Bois's and Rayford W. Logan's participation in the Phelps Stokes Fund's encyclopedia on Africa, Woodson attacked black scholars for working hand-in-hand with white scholars in what he called mis-representing black people. In "Mis-Representing the Negro," Woodson argued that too many black scholars were blindly selling their research to white research investigators who altered their works to support theories of black inferiority (Woodson 1944. p. 144). Woodson the iconoclast charged that these black intellectuals lacked character and would sell out their people for any amount of money and recognition within white scholarly circles.
Woodson extended his criticisms to black political leaders. Several times in the 1930s, he championed the opinion that no black political leadership had existed since Reconstruction. He proclaimed that there were too many "inconsistent and compromising" self-ordained leaders who were "working against the interests of the race." Black leaders, in his view, all too often accepted segregation. At times he seems to have given up on black leadership entirely. In the early 1940s, Woodson argued that blacks would gain democracy in America only with the leadership of "the laboring classes" since they were "not obligated to the oppressors of their people" as were their spokesmen or "handpicked agents" (Woodson 1943, p. 170-171: Woodson 1943, p. 194, 213). Woodson's iconoclastic rhetorical strategy was aimed at raising debate within black intellectual circles.
In an article entitled "How Foreign Merchants Exploit the Negro," Woodson (1940) also indicted the black middle-class in the NHB for their lack of business sense and failure to operationalize economic nationalism and self-sufficiency (pp. 56-58). Foreshadowing Malcolm X, Woodson deplored the fact that blacks allowed foreigners to open businesses in their communities. He argued that black people lacked an economic program in the most basic of forms. The Great Depression, Woodson (1940) asserted, was "a blessing in disguise," because it challenged blacks to turn within, to rely on themselves, and to be creative (pp. 56-58). Calling for change, Woodson offered NHB readers several potential solutions. He called upon blacks to open small business ventures, demanded that his people, especially professionals, stop wasting their money on toys and leisure activities, and called upon "the man who has few thousand dollars" to make sacrifices for the benefit of those in need. Woodson was especially critical of the black middle and professional classes. He was convinced that they had the power to help the masses in monumental ways. He arrived at this conclusion not only by studying the ideologies and actions of countless of his predecessors, but also in recognizing the ways in which one person and one organization of committed individuals could serve a "needy cause" (Woodson 1940, pp. 56-58).
During the era of World War II, Woodson's commentaries took on a much more political flavor. He attacked the United States government for mistreating devoted black soldiers during and after the war. Woodson (1943) declared in one column that U.S. policies resembled "more the policies of Hitler" than those of a so-called democratic nation (p. 72). To Woodson, this behavior conformed with the historical abuse endured by black American soldiers since the colonial era. Woodson interpreted the role of blacks in World War II, and in previous wars, as being "peculiar." Like many other black leaders throughout history and his time, he publicized and supported blacks' historical and contemporary activities in the armed forces in hopes that blacks would receive citizenship in exchange for their services. Embracing the "Double V Campaign," he believed that the black soldier's loyalty during World War II would "strengthen his case" for equality and first class citizenship. He urged blacks to engrave their unwavering patriotism deeply into the historical record so that whites could not deny their basic human rights without denying "the truth." In one sense, Woodson had faith that enough liberal whites would eventually acknowledge "the truth" and undergo significant ideological transformations (Woodson 1943, p. 72, Woodson 1944, p. 170).
Throughout the remainder of the 1940s, Woodson continued to publish social commentaries in the NHB. He attacked segregation in American social and institutional life, condemned America's imperialist and expansionist ethos in the immediate aftermath of World War II, scrutinized problems plaguing the black community from within, reiterated and clarified the function of Negro History Week, and commented on the changes affecting black people in a global context.
During Woodson's lifetime, the NHB underwent various changes and developments. The first major change, in October of 1939, was the increase in size from eight to sixteen pages. Woodson resolved that black school teachers were in need of more information to adequately incorporate black history into their curriculums. In order to maintain his audience, Woodson did not raise the price. At the same time, by the magazine's third volume, the articles were becoming more in-depth, thematically organized, and more scholarly in tone. During the 1940s, more than a few of Woodson's proteges contributed scientific historical scholarship to the NHB increasingly during the 1940s. By October 1940, the style of the magazine changed. While the first three volumes resembled a small newspaper, the volumes after 1940 looked more like a journal or magazine, resembling issues of The Crisis. From October of 1937 until April of 1950, Woodson's columns in the NHB became increasingly more political. The gradual radicalization and increased scholarly flavor of the magazine is best explained by Woodson's strong conviction that the magazine was not a vehicle of popular matters or propaganda. He stressed that it was a space where students with varying interests of history could enlighten and engage each other. He, therefore, tended to couch his polemical diatribes in historical articles, and/or guard them with some sense of anonymity.
According to Woodson, the NHB was a successful venture. He declared that the NHB had a similar impact on Negro History Week. He felt justified in publishing the magazine at a loss because he believed that it was finding its ways into the minds of black people, making black school teachers more well rounded, inspiring black youth, and even helping to deconstruct race prejudice and foster better relations between blacks and whites. Woodson used the NHB as he had the JNH's "Notes"--a comfortable place to articulate his dynamic, iconoclastic world view in a simple language. At the same time, the NHB was one of Woodson's gifts to black people. The "Second Father of Black History," John Hope Franklin, certainly thought so. "The BULLETIN," Franklin (1950) noted, "represented perhaps the most vigorous extension of the work of Dr. Woodson into the lives of persons who were soon to share the responsibility of making their communities better places in which to live" (p. 176).
During the four decades after the founding of the Association of the Study of Negro Life and History in 1915, Carter G. Woodson helped lay the ideological foundations for the evolution and flowering of the black historical profession as well as the modern Black Studies Movement. Since the Black Power era, many scholars have acknowledged Woodson's key role in the proto Black Studies Movement. His title of the "Father of Black History" is well known. He was also a founding father of Black Studies. Many decades before the golden years of Black Studies, he successfully converted an authentically African American scientific academic discipline into a practical tool of self-empowerment and liberation. The scope, seriousness, and pragmatism of Woodson's scholarship and social activism served as useful object lessons for practitioners of the modern Black Studies Movement. Dimensions of Woodson's approach can be beneficially adapted to Black Studies paradigms and phiosophies of the twenty-first century.
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Pero Gaglo Dagbovie is an Assistant Professor of History and member of the African American and African Studies Advisory Committee at Michigan State University. His principal research and teaching interests include the history of the black historical profession, African American life during the "nadic" twentieth-century black intellectual history, and the hip-hop generation.…