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Carter G. Woodson

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Teacher

One of the most inspiring and instructive stories in black history is the story of how Carter G. Woodson, the father of black history, saved himself.

The skeletal facts of his personal struggle for light and of his rise from the coalmines of West Virginia to the summit of academic achievement are great in and of them and can be briefly stated.

At 17, the young man who was called by history to reveal black history was an untutored coal miner. At 19, after teaching himself the fundamentals of English and arithmetic, he entered high school and mastered the four-year curriculum in less than two years.

At 22, after two-thirds of a year at Berea College in West Virginia, he returned to the coalmines and studied Latin and Greek between trips to the mineshafts. He then went on to the University of Chicago, where he received bachelors and master's degrees, and Harvard University, where he became the second black to receive a doctorate in history.

For in an extraordinary career spanning three crucial decades, the man and the history became one, so much so that it is impossible to deal with the history of black people without touching, at some point, the personal history of Carter Woodson, who taught the teachers, transformed the vision of the masses and became, almost despite himself, an institution, a cause and a month. One could go further and say that the scientific study of black history began with Woodson, who almost single-handedly created the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History and the prestigious Journal of Negro History. Not content with these achievements, he ventured into the field of mass education, creating the annual black history celebrations.

What makes this all the more remarkable is that Woodson created these cultural monuments largely by his own efforts? Defiantly independent, he gave up the things most men hold dear -- family, material comforts, fun and social relations -- and devoted his every waking hour to the task of ensuring that blacks would escape "the awful fate of becoming a negligible factor in world thought." Like most pioneers, he was ridiculed and attacked. But in the end, he prevailed.

It was no accident, historian John Hope Franklin once said, that Carter G. Woodson accomplished these things. History knew what it was doing when it gave James Henry and Anne Eliza Woodson, two former slaves, the honor of bringing Carter G.
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