During Black History Month, Berea College proudly recognizes notable alumni who have contributed significantly to Black History and each week features remarkable Bereans. Most notable is the “Father of Black History,” Carter G. Woodson, who enrolled at Berea College in 1897 and graduated in 1903.
Woodson was born to formerly enslaved African-Americans. He was determined to get an education and through self-instruction learned the fundamentals of common school subjects until he was 17 years old. At the age of 20, Woodson simultaneously worked as a West Virginia coal miner and as a student, earning his high school diploma in less than two years.
Little attention has been given to Woodson’s Appalachian roots or the influence of the values he developed at Berea College played on his cultural advancement. Equipped with his degree from Berea, Woodson continued his education, first at the University of Chicago where, in addition to a second bachelor’s degree, he earned a Master’s degree in European History, then at the Sorbonne in Paris and finally at Harvard University where he earned a Ph.D. in history.
Woodson worked for the U.S. Government as an education superintendent in the Philippines and traveled elsewhere before returning to the United States. He committed himself to the field of African-American history and diligently worked to make sure that the subject was studied by scholars and taught in schools. He formalized that by establishing Negro History Week in February 1926 to promote the study of African-American history. The program was later expanded and renamed Black History Month. (Woodson selected February for the initial weeklong observance to honor the birth months of abolitionist Frederick Douglass and President Abraham Lincoln.)
As an historian of African-American culture, a prolific author of dozens of books and articles, a journalist and the founder of the Journal of Negro History and of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, Woodson deservedly became widely recognized as the “Father of Black History.”
The Carter G. Woodson Center at Berea College was founded in 2011 as a part of the “continuing mission to promote the transformative power of education and social inclusion,” and to honor the memory of a remarkable alumnus who “quite literally changed the face of American history.”
(For more information about Carter G. Woodson, visit: https://www.berea.edu/cgwc/carter-godwin-woodson)