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.