Black Quotidian: Everyday History in African-American Newspapers

February 24, 1934

On February 24, 1934, the Pittsburgh Courier featured an article from historian Carter G. Woodson highlighting “‘Forgotten Negroes’: Who Played Major Roles in the Race’s March of Progress.” Woodson’s name and achievements would have been familiar to readers of the Courier and other African-American newspapers. In 1915, Woodson helped found the Journal of Negro History and the Association for the Study of Negro Life, which later became the Association for the Study of African-American Life and History (ASALH). Woodson continued to encourage the study of African-American history and culture, and in 1926 he guided the first Negro History Week, which became Black History Month in 1976. “Not to know what one’s race has done in former times is to continue always a child,” Woodson argued. “If a race has no history, if it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated.” 

In this 1934 Courier article, Woodson called attention to a number of African-American historical figures that deserved to be better known. “I have been deeply struck with the fact that with the exception of Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington, the heroes of our past are almost forgotten,” Woodson wrote. “Some few use the names of Benjamin Banneker and Phillis Wheatley, and figures like Andrew Bryan, Lott Carey, Richard Allen, James Varick and Daniel A. Payne live only as religious characters whose memory is revered largely in the churches…In fact, the Negroes are about in the same position as the whole nation would be if we remembered only George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Woodrow Wilson.” Woodson went on to list a “galaxy of brilliant stars,” such as James Fortan, Charles Lenox, David Ruggles, Harriet Tubman, and Sojourner Truth, “whose names should be familiar in every household” (click to view PDF).

I have been thinking about Carter G. Woodson a lot this month and posted about him and the origins of Black History Month (i.e., “Negro History Week”) on February 1. Reading articles by and about Woodson from the 1920s and 1930s has helped me better understand a time when this iconic figure in black history was someone with whom ordinary black Americans could correspond or engage. As a historian, these articles have also helped me situate myself in the long tradition of scholars and educators who have worked to present African-American history to new audiences in new ways.     

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