Without the work of Carter G. Woodson, Google would probably not have kicked off Black History Month on Thursday, let alone with its home-page image of Woodson himself.
Woodson is historic because he believed in the illuminating power of the historic. He knew that tradition must be rightly learned before it can be valued, and that even then, society might try to devalue you and push you to the back of history’s warehouse.
As a real-world example of such undervaluation, consider the historic “office-home” of Woodson in Washington, D.C., at 1538 Ninth St. NW — just blocks from the White House as well as The Washington Post.
Yet in a city chockablock with burnished monuments, Woodson’s Washington home was allowed to fall into a dilapidated state. As the president of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History wrote in a letter to The Post in the summer, Woodson’s D.C. home was among 30 memorials honoring the African-American experience that were “subject to the ravages of deferred maintenance.” (That letter championed the bipartisan National Park Service Act to secure repair funding.)
Consider that this home was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1976, and that it was placed on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s list of endangered properties 17 years ago.
Then consider that it was precisely here that the precursor to Black History Month was born, after Woodson eyed February for a celebration, as Google notes, “to commemorate the birth months of abolitionist Frederick Douglass and President Abraham Lincoln.”
Woodson, according to the National Park Service, bought the home in 1922, for $8,000. And it was here that Woodson — this Virginia-born son of former slaves who wrote more than 20 books and hundreds of essays — created “Negro History Week,” the precursor to the monthlong event, in 1926.
That was the same decade that many future scholars, historians and authors began to be hired or mentored here, including such Harlem Renaissance figures as Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston. And for half a century, till 1971, the home would also serve as headquarters for the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History.
And Woodson, who was born Dec. 19, 1875, in nearby Buckingham County, Va., would die in this home, in his third-floor bedroom, in 1950, having traveled many roads and multiple continents along his path to changing how the world sees and values African-American history. Because “those who have no record of what their forebears have accomplished,” Woodson famously said, “lose the inspiration which comes from the teaching of biography and history.”