(The following article by Audrey Fischer is from the January/February 2016 issue of the Library of Congress Magazine, LCM. You can read the issue in its entirety here.)
One man’s dedication to a field of study inspired the moniker “the father of African American history.”
With this year’s theme of “Hallowed Grounds: Sites of African American Memories,” 2016 African American History Month will be celebrated in schools, libraries and other cultural institutions throughout the month of February.
One such sacred ground is 1538 Ninth Street N.W. in Washington, D.C., home to Carter G. Woodson, pictured above, (1875-1950), the Harvard-educated historian who established Black History Week in 1926. The property was declared a National Historic Site in 1976—the same year that the recognition of African Americans’ contributions to the nation was extended to a month-long celebration.
In his “Message on the Observance of Black History Month” in February 1976, President Gerald Ford acknowledged Woodson’s founding of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASAALH) as a way to document those contributions. The organization was founded in 1915 at the house on Ninth Street, where Carter lived until his death in 1950. With more than 25 branches, the membership organization holds an annual convention in cities across the nation.
Woodson believed that, “Those who have no record of what their forebears have accomplished lose the inspiration which comes from the teaching of biography and history.” He devoted his life to researching, publishing and increasing public awareness of black history and culture.
Woodson researched his dissertation at the Library of Congress, where he was encouraged by Manuscript Division Chief J. Franklin Jameson to seek funding to further his goals. With a grant from the Carnegie Foundation, Woodson founded the ASAALH. In 1929 and 1938, Woodson donated his papers to the Library of Congress. The bulk of the collection’s 18,000 items have been microfilmed and the film is available in the Library’s Manuscript Reading Room.
The collection includes primary documents relating to African-American life and history during the slavery, Reconstruction and “New South” eras. It also includes material related to Woodson’s editing of the “Encyclopedia Africana,” a comprehensive guide to African peoples, leaders, and luminaries in Africa, the United States, South America, the Caribbean, and worldwide. The unpublished research for that ambitious publication, along with other unique items, makes the collection a valuable resource for scholars and students of African American history.