Carter G. Woodson Biography

Carter G. Woodson (1875-1859), a graduate of the Berea College Class of 1903 and also known as the “Father of Black History,” was born in New Canton, Fluvanna County, Virginia, during the American Reconstruction. Raised in a literate family among school teachers, Woodson left New Canton to join his two older brothers working in the coal mines of Huntington, West Virginia, at the age of seventeen. There he attended Douglass High School, a school established in 1891 as one of the few public high schools available to African American youth. Woodson graduated from Douglass as one of its highest achieving students. By 1901, Carter G. Woodson had already earned a West Virginia teaching certificate where he scored well above average in drawing, music, science, educational methods and history. However, the best scores of his state teaching exam were those gained in the area of Latin, arithmetic, and algebra.

One year following the Supreme Court ruling in Plessey v. Ferguson, Woodson enrolled at Berea College while also serving as principal of Douglass High School and teaching in Winona, Fayette County, West Virginia, at a school established by African American coal miners to educate their children. Perhaps in anticipation of Kentucky’s strengthening segregation laws, or perhaps because of them, Woodson would complete the remainder of his Berea College work at the University of Chicago in 1903, one year ahead of formal passage of the Kentucky Day Law.

Woodson received a Bachelor of Literature degree from Berea College in 1903 following completion of all necessary academic requirements at the University of Chicago. Woodson continued his education at the University of Chicago where in addition to a second bachelor degree, he earned a Master’s degree in European History in 1908. Woodson continued his studies at the Sarbonne in Paris and at Harvard University where he earned a Ph.D. in history in 1921. He became the second African American to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard, following this same academic accomplishment by Dr. W. E. B. DuBois in 1907.