BHM 2021
The man who inspired the creation of Black History Month(part 3)

Carter Godwin Woodson

With mixed success, Woodson appealed to philanthropists and philanthropic agencies to support his work. Some answered that appeal, but when their backing came with strings attached that threatened his professional autonomy, Woodson refused to compromise. Cutting these ties, he worked to develop alternative funding sources. In one instance he dispatched to the South a group of young men in training as historians, who traveled from state to state selling books published by Woodson’s Associated Publishers. Woodson even poured his own salary, speaking fees, and book profits into The Journal of Negro History, and used the profits from the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, to send African American scholars (‘Woodson’s Boys,’ as they were called-to the best graduate schools in the country). Trained according to the current canons of historical research, these scholars formed the ranks of the first professional African American historians. Charles Wesley, one of these scholars, wrote The Collapse of the Confederacy (1937), which influenced the scholarship of the late Armstead Robinson, founder of the Carter G. Woodson Institute.

When Robinson founded the Institute for African American Studies in 1981, soon thereafter, he petitioned the university to rename the Institute in honor of Carter G. Woodson. This was entirely fitting, not merely because Woodson was, like Robinson, was a historian. Not because he was a Virginian, but because Woodson had devoted his life and work to designing and maintaining the institutional structures that advanced the study of African American history, providing subsequent generations of scholars the support they needed to build professional careers that would not have been possible otherwise. The Institute’s subsequent director, Reginald Butler, as well as the associate and interim directors over the years (William Jackson, Scot French, Cynthia Hoehler-Fatton, and Deborah McDowell) have worked to sustain and advance Carter Woodson’s dynamic approach to the study of black history and culture, approach ambitious in its aims and global in its reach. The work of our students, faculty members, as well as the pre- and post-doctoral fellows encompasses diverse fields of inquiry and methodologies.”

Collectively, they are proudly carrying on the legacy and commitments of our namesake, bringing the study of African American history and culture out of the nation’s shadows and into public light and life.

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