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Black History, Our History

Title photo of Dr. Carter G. Woodson alongside the words "Our History, Black History Month. Yesterday - Today - Tomorrow"

Black history is American history. Our schools should integrate Black, Asian, Hispanic, and queer history throughout our history books and curricula so that we don’t have to rely on single weeks or months throughout the year to highlight important events, contributions, and history associated with often overlooked Americans. But until that happens, we need to raise up cultural and historical contributions from all of our great Americans and American immigrants to this nation. 

Many do not know the origins of Black History month. It was started by a man who believed that history belonged to all of us: Dr. Carter G. Woodson, a Black Historian. 

Early in his studies, Dr. Woodson recognized that Black scholars needed to be able to study and preserve Black history, but that to do so he would need to create a separate institutional structure., To accomplish this he founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History in 1915 and later the Journal of Negro History, now known as the Journal of African American History.

Dr. Woodson knew that African-American contributions "were overlooked, ignored, and even suppressed by the writers of history textbooks and the teachers who use[d] them." Woodson was determined to convince the general public to embrace the past — including the dark chapters on slavery and segregation.

The 1920s saw a rise in African American arts and culture through what was considered a golden age of African American culture during the Harlem Renaissance. It was in this atmosphere that Dr. Woodson created Black History Week in 1926, which purposefully coincides with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, to highlight the accomplishments of two men instrumental to freedom in this country–a freedom beyond enslavement for African Americans.

In Virginia, the former seat of the Confederacy, we see the change that began with Woodson over 100 years ago. Monuments to the Lost Cause and slavery have been toppled. We have renamed streets, schools, and districts to recognize the worth and decency of all of our citizens. The boundaries that were gerrymandering and which diluted the voting power of so many for so long are slowly being corrected  so that all of our votes will count no matter where we live. 

Photo of Dr. W. F. Reid, first Black Caucus in 1968

Nowhere is this change more evident than in our General Assembly where the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus is 32 members strong. You can’t help but see the march of history toward a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive future when you look at the photos of the 2024 Black Caucus versus the first Black Caucus in 1968 which was the lone Dr. W.F. Reid.

On January 10, 2024, Virginia Delegates voted unanimously for Democrat Don Scott to become the first Black Speaker of the House in Virginia Legislature's 400-year history.

During Black History Month 2024, we have a lot to celebrate, yet we need to continue to fight for civil rights and equality for all. There are those who mistakenly believe that teaching Black History is divisive, and there are those who are dissatisfied with a diverse, inclusive future we are working toward; therefore, we need to continue to fiercely defend our successes and stridently work for future change.

Carter G. Woodson’s passion was history, because he knew that we needed to truly understand our history to move toward a greater future. Be like Carter G. Woodson: make the change you wish to see in the world.

Vanessa Hall is one of many local citizens in Fairfax County who successfully advocated to change the name of her children’s high school from W.T. Woodson to Carter G. Woodson. You can learn more about who these men were here in A Tale of Two Woodsons.

1 Comment

So unbelievably proud of the Commonwealth's Legislative Black Caucus, truly reflective of our community, and writing inclusive, lifesaving bills for this and the next generation.

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