Afrocentricity and the Black Intellectual Tradition and Education: Carter G. Woodson, W. E. B. Du Bois, and E. Franklin Frazier

By Wiggan, Greg | Journal of Pan African Studies, June 15, 2010 | Go to article overview

Afrocentricity and the Black Intellectual Tradition and Education: Carter G. Woodson, W. E. B. Du Bois, and E. Franklin Frazier


Wiggan, Greg, Journal of Pan African Studies


Father of Black History

Few biographies of early black intellectuals have been written partly because of the suppression of information on these scholars' work, and sometimes the lack of primary source materials that are available. The difficulty in locating original documents is evidenced by Jacqueline Goggin's, the chief biographer on Carter G. Woodson, own admission about the paucity of information that was available on Woodson's parents and his youth. Nevertheless, she has written a concise, but superb account on Woodson's life. Born in New Canton, Virginia in 1875, Carter Godwin Woodson was the first and only black American of slave parentage to earn a doctorate in history. Through his many hours of work, he has impacted countless lives and established himself as the Father of Black History. As a young man, Woodson worked on the family farm and after he left home he did odd jobs like driving garbage trucks and working in coalmines to support himself. The young Woodson was an avid reader; he read speeches, lectures, and essays dealing with civil service reform, black history, and current events from just about any newspaper he could get his hands on. (5) After graduating from Frederick Douglass High School in West Virginia, he enrolled in Berea College in Kentucky in the fall of 1897. When Woodson completed Berea, he seized the opportunity to travel to the Philippines after the country was brought under American jurisdiction at the end of the Spanish-American War in 1898. American teachers were being recruited to teach in the Philippines, and Woodson was among those African Americans who accepted the offer. His decision to go to the Philippines was clearly influenced by his belief in the idea of social progress through education.

After returning home, Woodson embarked on a six-month world tour visiting Africa, Asia and Europe. (6) His travels apparently gave him an international perspective on the exclusion of people of African descent and their contributions throughout the world. His decision to become a historian was formalized in 1907 when he chose to pursue studies in history at the University of Chicago. In 1908, while Woodson was studying at Chicago he wrote Du Bois at Atlanta University requesting statistics on black churches and the training of black ministers for research he was doing on the topic. Du Bois, who was already being recognized as one of the leading black intellects, responded and forwarded Woodson the materials he requested.

After completing his training in Chicago, Woodson was encouraged to apply to Harvard University. While at Harvard, he recalled that some of his professors scoffed at the notion that people of African descent played a vital role in world history and American history. (7) Due to his experiences with racism and the anti-black climate at Harvard, Woodson almost abandoned his plan to complete his Ph.D. However, despite these obstacles on the way to receiving his doctorate, in 1912 he completed his degree in History. Later, Woodson founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History to promote black history. The first meeting was held on September 9th, 1915, and eventually the organization sponsored the first Negro History Week, which in 1926 evolved into Black History Month. (8) Woodson edited the Journal of Negro History from 1916 to 1950 as well as the Journal and The Negro History Bulletin.

He was totally devoted to the cause of promoting black history. However, for many of his research endeavors he was forced to solicit the support of white philanthropic foundations. When Woodson was rejected funding by the Rockefeller Foundation for his research, an emerging black scholar name E. Franklin Frazier made his objection known to the foundation, asserting that Woodson was the most competent person; therefore, he should receive funding. (9) Frazier, the emerging scholar, would later be recognized as one of the most prominent black sociologist ever. …

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