The Northwest Current reported last month that plans to create a memorial to Carter G. Woodson in the District of Columbia are moving forward. The city council is reviewing plans that were recently approved by the National Capital Planning Commission.
Why Woodson? Woodson was a prominent African American educator, writer and historian who is perhaps best known today for promoting the first Negro History Week in the mid-1920s, a celebration of African American history that lives on today in Black History Month. Woodson lived for many years in Washington D.C. and his historic home, which is owned by the National Park Service, is only a few steps from the proposed memorial site at Q and 9th Streets, NW.
In 1927, around the same time he founded Negro History Week, Woodson completed the first history of the Rosenwald Fund’s school-building program (which was winding down and would end in 1932). The Rosenwald Fund opened its archives (which present a rich demographic picture of rural African American communities in the early 20th century) and provided funding to Woodson to complete this important historical work. Woodson’s work was never published, but the manuscript is stored with the Rosenwald Fund Papers at Fisk University in Nashville.
At this same point in his life, while living in Washington in the mid-1920s, Woodson also crossed paths with a young Langston Hughes. Through a friend of his mother’s, Hughes got a job as Woodson’s personal assistant and began doing clerical work in Woodson’s office. Hughes writes in his autobiography that despite realizing the importance of Woodson’s research, he disliked the position so much that he soon quit and began work at the Wardman Park Hotel. Woodson was a good literary connection for Hughes, but the job at the Wardman Park Hotel gave him the opportunity to become the famous “busboy poet,” when he slipped three of his poems to a critic named Vachel Lindsay who was dining at the hotel. Lindsay introduced Hughes to publishers who would later print some of his most famous works.
Woodson was a great historian and a great Washingtonian. Kudos to the city for recognizing him with a new statue and memorial park.