"Most Honorable Mention ... Belongs to Washington, DC": The Carter G. Woodson Home and the Early Black History Movement in the Nation's Capital

Article excerpt

Most honorable mention, however, belongs to Washington. DC, where without any urgent solicitation from $ 1,500 to $2,000 is annually raised to support the work of the Association. The Shaw Junior School, about two blocks from the national office in Washington, raises more money for the cause than any other school in the world. ... Just as the Shaw Junior High School takes priority among the schools so does the Helping Hand Club of the Nineteenth Street Baptist Church take priority of the country. This city-wide interchurch is in a class by itself ... It stages annually drives to aid ... the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. ... In this connection should be mentioned the large number of teachers of the District of Columbia who, although prohibited by local regulations from receiving solicitors in the school, voluntarily connect themselves as members of the Association and subscribers to its magazines.

--Carter G. Woodson, 1947 (1)

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In the February 1958 issue of Ebony magazine, the Johnson Publishing Company announced; "The third distinguished American named by readers to the Ebony Hall of Fame is the man who helped put the Negro back in the history books, Carter Godwin Woodson (1875-1950). For decades it was his custom to devote virtually every waking hour to research, writing, and editing. Nothing else mattered. He had no ties to anyone, depended on no one, came as close to any man can to being an island 'entire of itself' He never consciously sought to be liked, never cultivated those habits and personality traits which would endear him to the public. ... He had no home of his own, lived in rented lodgings as a boarder or ate out in restaurants." (2) The editors of African America's most popular magazine for the black middle class in the early years the civil rights campaigns got it wrong about the nature of the public and private life of the "Father of Negro History." The editors at Ebony were correct in observing that Woodson was extremely independent, possessed an intricate and complex personality, and wholeheartedly sacrificed his life for the promotion of African and African American history. However, in Washington, DC, in particular, he had many friends and had mobilized countless co-workers upon whom he depended; he remained committed to the grassroots, serving as a public intellectual and celebrity. Most importantly for Woodson and the early black history movement, on 30 August 1922 he purchased a three-story, Italianate style row house for $8,000 at 1538 Ninth Street, NW, Washington, DC, where he lived from 1922 until the day of his sudden death on 3 April 1950.

Willie Leanna Miles, who worked with Woodson in the years immediately before his death, dubbed the Ninth Street residence the nucleus of the early black history movement. The building housed the Associated Publishers, Inc.; The Journal of Negro History (JNH) and the Negro History Bulletin (NHB), and served as the national headquarters for the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH). Woodson wrote and dictated to his secretaries and stenographers numerous books, letters, memos, announcements, and essays in the unusual comfort of his "office-home." Important figures of the early black history movement visited "the Association's" headquarters and during the ASNLH's nine annual meetings held in Washington, DC, between 1917 and 1949, the organization's national office was a very busy place. (3) Countless books published by the Associated Publishers, issues of the Journal of Negro History and the Negro History Bulletin, and other important documents were stored in the national office's basement. In 1941 Woodson noted that the ASNLH stored in "its fireproof safe in the national office an additional 1,000 or more manuscripts which will be turned over to the Library of Congress as soon as they can be properly sorted. These manuscripts consist of valuable letters of the most noted Negroes of our time: Francis J. …