Black History Month at Woodson High School Starts With the Story of Carter G. Woodson

By Office of Communications
February 21, 2024

Within this story — and the educational materials associated with the lesson it is describing — the term “Negro” is used when referencing historical documents, by historians in videos, and in historical quotes. FCPS acknowledges that the term is no longer widely used because of its offensive nature. Students were instructed to never use the reference toward any person today, and that it is appropriate to replace the word with “African American” if reading materials aloud during the class. 

A Black History Month lesson hit close to home for students at W.T. Woodson High School this month. Woodson Principal Kevin Greata met with the school’s Black Student Union about Black History Month, and he discovered that students were interested in learning about historical figures they don’t normally learn about. 

The most obvious figure to study first was the person the school will be named for beginning next school year. Last fall, the School Board unanimously approved changing the name of the school to Carter G. Woodson High School. 

Rather than assign a specific committee to plan a Black History Month Celebration at the school, Greata said, “It’s everyone’s individual responsibility to get involved and — at the very least — learn something new about Black history this month.” 

Greata organized a lesson for the entire student body that was delivered early in February on Carter G. Woodson, a nationally renowned scholar, author, educator, and journalist. The lesson — which was created in collaboration with FCPS’ Office of Instructional Services — was held during the Learning Seminar period, a time set aside for interventions and schoolwide programming. 

Carter G. Woodson is considered the Father of Black History and founded “Negro History Week,” the precursor of Black History Month. He chose February for this celebration because it was the birth month of Abraham Lincoln (February 12) and Frederick Douglass (February 14). Woodson died in 1950. Black History Month was officially declared in 1976 by President Gerald Ford. 

Woodson was a proponent of teaching history to everyone and championed the study of the history of Black people — in particular — as essential to American education.  

“We should emphasize not Negro history, but the Negro in history,” he said. “What we need is not a history of selected races or nations, but the history of the world void of national bias, race, hate, and religious prejudice.” 

After learning more about the individual their school would be named for, Woodson students were asked for their feedback: What do they want to learn more about, and why is Black History Month important? Their responses could help inform additional learning throughout the month of February. Carter G. Woodson

Some of the reasons students thought it was important to celebrate Black history include:

  • “To understand the inequitable beginnings of a minority population and how this culture is critical to the development and flourishing of the United States’ own culture.” 
  • “People of all backgrounds should be celebrated and welcomed.” 
  • “To remember the past so that we do not repeat it.”
  • “They did important things that still impact today’s world and we shouldn’t forget them.”
  • “It's an opportunity to spotlight and celebrate the achievements that African Americans have accomplished in this country, despite the history of racism and oppression.”

Students indicated they’d like to learn more about Black artists and musicians, strong Black women, local African Americans, the culture and cultural foods, how to be a better ally, and even more about Carter G. Woodson. 

Key Facts from the Life of Carter G. Woodson

  • Born on December 19, 1875, in New Canton, Virginia.
  • Son of formerly enslaved parents.
  • Early in life, he worked in coal mines to support his family.
  • Earned degrees from Berea College, the University of Chicago, and Harvard University (where he was the second African American to receive a Ph.D.). 
  • Founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (now the Association for the Study of African American Life and History) in 1915. 
  • Established “Negro History Week” in 1926, which later became Black History Month. 
  • Championed the study of Black history as essential to American education.

Learn more by watching this National Parks Service video clip that was shared with Woodson students.