February is Black History Month in the United States. Did you know that one of the people responsible for what we now know as Black History Month was a Humanist? Dr. Carter G. Woodson (1875 – 1950) was a historian, author, journalist and the founder of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. Woodson was one of the first scholars to study African-American history.
Dr. Woodson started “Negro History Week” in February of 1926 which was later expanded into the Black History Month we have today. He felt that African-Americans should study their own history because the historical contributions of African-Americans “were overlooked, ignored, and even suppressed by the writers of history textbooks and the teachers who use them.” Racism, he concluded, “is merely the logical result of tradition, the inevitable outcome of thorough instruction to the effect that the Negro has never contributed anything to the progress of mankind.”
Dr. Woodson also felt that religion held African-Americans back:
The so-called modern education, with all its defects, however, does others so much more good than it does the Negro, because it has been worked out in conformity to the needs of those who have enslaved and oppressed weaker peoples. For example, the philosophy and ethics resulting from our educational system have justified slavery, peonage, segregation, and lynching. The oppressor has the right to exploit, to handicap, and to kill the oppressed. Negroes daily educated in the tenets of such a religion of the strong have accepted the status of the weak as divinely ordained, and during the last three generations of their nominal freedom they have done practically nothing to change it. Their pouting and resolutions indulged in by a few of the race have been of little avail.
No systematic effort toward change has been possible, for, taught the same economics, history, philosophy, literature and religion which have established the present code of morals, the Negro’s mind has been brought under the control of his oppressor. The problem of holding the Negro down, therefore, is easily solved. When you control a man’s thinking you do not have to worry about his actions. You do not have to tell him not to stand here or go yonder. He will find his “proper place” and will stay in it. You do not need to send him to the back door. He will go without being told. In fact, if there is no back door, he will cut one for his special benefit. His education makes it necessary.
Dr. Woodson and his legacy plays an important part in African-American life and is a Humanist you should know.