Honoring Berea alumnus Carter G. Woodson, the “Father of Black History,” the Berea College board of trustees has approved the creation of the Carter G. Woodson Center for Interracial Education that integrates the college’s Black Cultural Center and the African and African-American studies program.
The creation of this center stems from a 2006 strategic plan revision process mandating that the college reassert interracial education in its contemporary learning, working and living environments. This center will build 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.
“Given Berea’s foundational commitment to interracial education of white and black people together, I would like to think that both Carter G. Woodson and college founder John G. Fee are smiling because of the board’s decision to approve this center,” says Dr. Chad Berry, Berea’s academic vice president and dean of the faculty.
The center will support 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.
“This center will enhance Berea College’s commitment to interracial education by making interracial education more visible, by providing programming to include all Berea College constituents, and by acknowledging that the commitment to interracial education is one that is shared by the entire Berea College community, not just people of color,” says Dr. Linda Strong Leek, professor and program coordinator of African and African-American studies at Berea.
Born to freed slaves in Appalachian Virginia, Woodson was a sharecropper and coal miner before attending Berea College until 1903. He became the second black American to earn a doctorate from Harvard University, in 1912.
In 1915, Woodson helped found the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History and later established the “Journal of Negro History” before forming Associated Publishers Press in 1921, 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 founded Negro History Week, which later became Black History Month, 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 will be housed on the main floor of the Alumni Building, and the college’s board of trustees is expected to approve a renovation plan in early 2012.
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. Today, Berea’s enrollment of black students is 18.2 percent.
For more information about the early history of black Berea, visit http://community.berea.edu/earlyblackberea/bereahistory.html
Full-resolution photos can be downloaded at http://media.berea.edu/media/2011/CarterGWoodson/index.html