BLACK HISTORY MONTH; Son of Slaves Taught America Inclusive Lesson

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), February 22, 2007 | Go to article overview

BLACK HISTORY MONTH; Son of Slaves Taught America Inclusive Lesson


Byline: Lisa Rauschart, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

It's a recent Saturday morning in the gymnasium at Shiloh Baptist Church in the District, and about 20 youngsters 8 to 13 are listening raptly to a ranger from the National Park Service as he tells them about someone who lived long before they were born.

It doesn't seem to matter that school doesn't come around again until Monday; the level of excitement and the number of eager hands in the air lets you know that learning doesn't stop at the schoolhouse door.

"This man was a genius," says Joy Kinard, the National Park Service ranger in charge of the program, who manages with a few words and simple gestures to command the attention of the entire group, even the handful of parents sitting against the wall.

"He was an educator and a historian. He spoke many languages, and he wrote many books."

Carter Godwin Woodson (1875-1950), the subject of all this attention, would be proud. Today, his brainchild, Black History Month, which he began as Negro History Week in 1926, is a fixture on the American calendar and permanently established in the American consciousness.

The Association for the Study of African American Life and History, or ASALH, which Mr. Woodson founded in 1915 as the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, on Saturday celebrates its annual luncheon.

And the home where Mr. Woodson lived and worked at 1538 Ninth St. NW is being readied for opening by the National Park Service as a National Historic Site.

In the meantime, there are programs like this one.

"We really wanted to do something at the community level," says Ms. Kinard, who holds a master's degree in public history from Howard University and is working on her doctorate.

"And we have strong ambitions to get more children from the metropolitan area to know who he was."

Black history for all

Mr. Woodson's influence carried well beyond his efforts as the founder of Black History Month or as an institution builder. And his presence in the nation's capital reached well beyond the confines of his home. That's fitting for someone who didn't want the history of black Americans to be reduced to a simple litany of names and achievements.

"It's not just stop lights and shoe soles," says Daryl Scott, chairman of the History Department of Howard University and an ASALH board member, referring to two inventions by black Americans that are often trotted out this time of year Garrett A. Morgan's traffic signal, patented in 1923, and Ronald S. Demon's adjustable-support sole for athletic shoes, patented in 1998 while he was still a student at MIT.

"We don't want to deny those achievements, but we want to look at how African Americans have shaped larger questions of freedom and liberty over time."

Mr. Scott notes that Mr. Woodson wrote 19 books, including 1933's "The Mis-Education of the Negro," still in print and available in a new edition. He also wrote countless unsigned columns and editorials as the editor of the Journal of Negro History and the Negro History Bulletin.

"Most people don't have an appreciation of Woodson as an intellectual," says Mr. Scott. "But between 1925 and 1945, he was perhaps one of the leading intellectuals in the black community."

Teaching for equality

Mr. Woodson was born Dec. 19, 1875, in West Virginia to James and Anne Eliza Woodson, both of whom had been enslaved. It wasn't long before the young Woodson was showing an intellectual precociousness and love of reading that easily equaled that of one of his early heroes, Abraham Lincoln, despite the fact that he was working in the West Virginia coal mines during his teen years and didn't graduate from high school until he was 21.

"He would teach the coal miners to read by reading newspapers to them," says Robert Parker, site manager for the Park Service at the Carter G. …

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