AFAM Environmental History & Black History Month Without Carter G. Woodson?

Carter G. Woodson

February is Black History Month. Carter G. Woodson, the father of African American history, started it all in 1926 with Negro History Week.

Woodson was strategic deciding on the second week of February between Frederick Douglass’ and Abraham Lincoln’s birthdays for that special week devoted to African American history. Douglass was born enslaved in Talbot County, Maryland and knew the southern environmental landscape first hand, as a forced laborer without wages. The same was true for Woodson who was enslaved in Canton, Virginia in the same geographic region of Douglass’ birth place.

As for President Lincoln, he wasn’t the savior to those enslaved. African Americans of Woodson’s generation mythologized Lincoln through much of the twentieth century. Lincoln was more concerned about preserving the Union at any price during the Civil War. If freeing African Americans from enslavement helped so be it. If keeping African Americans enslaved bound the North and South together, that worked too. No matter your interpretation of history, whether through the lens of expediency or largesse, Lincoln was instrumental in changing how African Americans worked the land in the shift from enslavement to sharecropping, the latter into freedom.

In the midst of Black History Month 2012 . . . in this the second week of February in which Woodson marked Negro History Week . . . always remember Woodson was one of the first historians to write African American history. I owe a debt to him because his scholarship was a precursor of African American environmental history. Many of us owe a debt from historical and contemporary perspectives.

Carter G. Woodson, thank you for The Mis-Education of the Negro and A Century of Negro Migration.

One and all, have a joyous and educational 2012 Black History Month!

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