Berea College Dedicates Carter G. Woodson Center for Interracial Education

Berea College’s long-standing and historical commitment to interracial education was celebrated with the grand opening of the Carter G. Woodson Center, whose namesake graduated from Berea in 1903 and became recognized as the “Father of Black History.” The center, located on the main floor of the Alumni Building, reasserts interracial education as a priority in the college’s contemporary learning, working and living environments.

Programs scheduled for the event included a panel presentation and discussion from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m., a luncheon and presentation by Dr. Peggy McIntosh in Baird Lounge from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., a Diversity Committee meeting with McIntosh from 1:30 to 3 p.m. at Boone Tavern, and a center dedication program presented by Berea College trustees from 6:30 to 7 p.m. McIntosh’s presentation, titled “Waking Up to Privilege Systems,” discussed the concept of race and gender privilege. She is the associate director of the Wellesley College Center for Research on Women in Massachusetts, as well as the founder and co-director of the United States S.E.E.D. (Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity) Project on Inclusive Curriculum. Notable attendees included Jessie Zander, Berea’s first black graduate after the 1950 repeal of the Day Law forbidding interracial education in Kentucky, Trustee John Fleming, founding director of the National Afro-American Museum in Wilberforce, Ohio, and the first director and chief operating officer for the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, and Hal Moses, vice chairman of the board of trustees.

The center builds on the college’s efforts to support the recruitment, retention and academic success of black students through programming, support services, co-curricular programs, and leadership development. The center supports collaborations among existing programs related to interracial education and other shared commitments to cultural understanding, equality and justice, and extend the college’s interracial education efforts to other institutions and communities, particularly in the Appalachian region.

Dr. Alicestyne Turley posing for picture Dr. Alicestyne Turley has served as the director of the center since July 2012. She came to Berea College from the University of Louisville, where she has served as an assistant professor in the department of Pan-African Studies since August 2009. During this time she also served as director of the Underground Railroad Research Program and a Commissioner on the Louisville Landmarks Commission. From 2001-09, Turley served as adjunct professor, founder and director of the Underground Railroad Research Institute at Georgetown College.

“At one time, the study of African American life and culture was not even considered an academic discipline, but now I am honored to be selected to fill this important position as Woodson has become nationally and internationally recognized as the founder of African history in America,” says Turley. “The work of the center will seek to instill in every Berean Woodson’s sense of discovery, dedication to academic excellence and commitment to social inclusion that his life and work represent.”

Turley noted that Carter G. Woodson now takes his place in American culture at his alma mater at a time when the nation has re-elected its first black president, the Smithsonian Institution has broken ground for a permanent African-American museum on the Mall in Washington D.C., and where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is now commemorated along the Tidal Basin in a line of sight that includes the Jefferson, Lincoln and Washington Memorials. “It is only fitting,” says Dr. Turley, “that Berea College recognizes this historic opportunity by acknowledging its part in shaping the early academic life of this legendary American.”

Born to freed slaves in Appalachian Virginia in 1875, Woodson was a sharecropper and coal miner before attending Berea College until 1903. In 1912, he became the second black American to earn a doctorate from Harvard University.

In 1915, Woodson helped found the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History and later established the “Journal of Negro History.” In 1921, he founded an African-American focused publishing company called Associated Publishers Press, which published several of his own works, including “Mis-Education of the Negro,” considered by many to be one of the most important books on education ever written.

In 1926, Woodson created Negro History Week, which was met with such enthusiasm that it later became Black History Month, now celebrated across the U.S. every February. Woodson is quoted as saying, “If a race has no history, if it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world…”

Berea College’s interracial education commitment is foundational, directly articulated in one of the college’s Great Commitments: “To assert the kinship of all people and to provide interracial education with a particular emphasis on understanding and equality among blacks and whites.” The Carter G. Woodson Center for Interracial Education grows out of this enduring commitment and founding legacy. The center is housed on the main floor of the Alumni Building.

Berea College, the first interracial and coeducational college in the South, was founded in 1855 by the abolitionist John G. Fee, who believed in a school that would be an advocate of equality and excellence in education for men and women of all races. Berea was the only racially integrated college in Kentucky and in the South for nearly 40 years, until the Day Law in 1904 forced racial segregation by forbidding interracial education. When the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Day Law, Berea set aside funds to assist in the establishment of Lincoln Institute, a school located near Louisville, for black students. When the Day Law was amended in 1950 Berea reopened its doors to black students.