Academic journal article High School Journal

Carter G. Woodson and the Afrocentrists: Common Foes of Mis-Education

Academic journal article High School Journal

Carter G. Woodson and the Afrocentrists: Common Foes of Mis-Education

Article excerpt


Throughout a long and distinguished career, Carter Woodson made pioneering contributions to the study of African American history and the education of black students (Wesley, 1951). In addition to a substantial body of scholarly work, his contributions include the founding of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History in 1915, creation and editorial guidance of The Journal of Negro History (also founded in 1915), and the establishment of Negro History Week in 1926. His scholarship and example helped lay the groundwork for the heightened interest in black roots and history which emerged in the 1960s (Strickland, 1989, pp. xvii-xviii) . During that turbulent decade efforts to recapture and celebrate African American culture and history were often woven into educational reform initiatives designed to remedy the undereducation of black youth (Lauter & Perlstein, 1991). By the late 1980s, some efforts along these lines had coalesced into an approach known as Afrocentric education. Similar and complementary contributions within this newly emerging approach have been made by such scholars and activists as Hilliard (1989), Kunjufu (1986), Hale-Benson (1982), and Asante (1988)

In The Mis-education of the Negro (1933), Woodson explores ideas which were to become central for Afrocentrists. Asante (1992, p. 423) credits him with providing the "principal impetus" for the Afrocentric approach, noting, "Many of the principles that govern the development of the Afrocentric idea in education were first established by Carter G. Woodson in The Mis-education of the Negro." Referring to him as the "Father of Negro Education," Hale-Benson (1982, p. 175) also acknowledges Woodson's vital contributions. Given its thematic relevance to and direct influence upon Afrocentricity, this book merits serious evaluation, as well as exploration of how its core arguments parallel, contrast with, and illuminate the perspectives of the prominent Afrocentric educators cited above.

As the following investigation indicates, Woodson and these Afrocentrists share important values and concerns. With equal vigor they assert that there is tremendous creativity and resilience within the black community, that deep exploration of black culture and history is essential to allowing these qualities to flourish, and that internalized psychological oppression has been just as damaging to black people as material oppression. In addition, both Woodson and modern day Afrocentric writers contend that the profound failure of schools to effectively educate black young people plays a central role in the maintenance of racial inequality in the United States.

The Mis-education of the Negro

In The Mis-education of the Negro, Woodson discusses a broad range of topics, including black colleges, vocational education, the shortcomings of black churches, electoral politics and blacks, the portrayal of African Americans by white historians, and economic underdevelopment within the black community. He argues that in each of these areas white society is able to manipulate and exploit blacks through controlling their ideas and distorting their collective sense of identity:

   If you can control a man's thinking you do not have to worry about his
   action. When you determine what a man shall think you do not have to
   concern yourself about what he will do. If you make a man feel that he is
   inferior, you do not have to compel him to accept an inferior status, for
   he will seek it himself. If you make a man think he is justly an outcast,
   you do not have to order him to the back door. He will go without being
   told; and if there is no back door, his very nature will demand one. (p.

Although Woodson is concerned with the "mis-education" of all blacks the prime focus of this book is the experience of the "talented tenth," mostly middle class African Americans who have the resources to complete high school and attend college, and go on to pursue professional careers and leadership positions within the black community. …

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