Article 26 and the Father of Black History
Carter G. Woodson is widely hailed as the father of Black History. He played a formative role in bringing awareness and acknowledgement of the true place of Blacks in American history. His efforts moved the public consciousness beyond the subjugation of slavery to centuries of contribution to the social, cultural, scientific and economic progress of our nation.
The son of former slaves, Woodson was not able to pursue a formal education until he was nearly 20 years old. He believed that education held the key to securing a life of freedom and self-determination. He graduated high school, earned Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from the University of Chicago, and at age 37, became the second African American to earn a PhD from Harvard University.
Three years later, he founded the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH).
It was Woodson who, in 1926, established Negro History Week. He chose the second week of February because it encompassed the birthdays of two icons of freedom—Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. That effort won him the prestigious Spingarn Medal from the NAACP, but his vision was much grander, more inclusive than a focus on one or two notable men.
Under Woodson’s leadership, ASALH devoted decades to researching the many untold stories of people and events in Black history, and preserving them for future generations. The world had yet to catch up. It wasn’t until 1948, two years before Woodson’s death, that the United Nations took a stand on education. In its Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 26 proclaimed not only that education is a human right; but that it be directed to strengthening respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms; and promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups.
Baby boomers will remember how in the 1960s, college students across the nation called for the creation of Black Studies Departments and curricula. Woodson’s legacy with ASALH inspired others to incorporate the depth and breadth of Black history into our education systems rather than some whitewashed version of it.
In 1976, then-President Gerald Ford officially recognized Black History Month, calling upon Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” In 2021, we are still learning from Black history.