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Pickett lecture traces origins of Black History Month


Black History Month is a yearly observance in America, Canada and the U.K. focusing on the history of Africa and how its descendants have impacted society. In commemorating Black History Month, ONU’s Director of Multicultural Development Clyde Pickett presented a lecture on the origins of Black History Month and its founder Carter G. Woodson.

Pickett spoke about how through the perseverance and determination of Woodson, the month of February was designated as Black History Month. Pickett used Wood- son’s life as a focal point in describing how one man’s ambitions for change and knowledge sparked a torch of enlightenment.

"Just as the torch in the Olympics is passed, become torch bearers and light the torch of knowledge for others," Pickett said.

In 1875,Woodson was born in New Canton, Va. to formerly enslaved parents James and Elizae Woodson. His father was a former assistant to Union Soldiers during the Civil War. Woodson’s parents decided to move their family to Huntington, W. Va. when they heard a school was being built to educate Africans.

Pickett asked the crowd to picture them- selves taking such risks for the sake of education.

"Imagine uprooting your entire family for no job, no house, no land and no property because you heard there was a potential
for a school to be built for your children," Pickett said.

Being in a large and poor family, Wood- son worked to help support his younger siblings and was unable to attend school regularly. However, by the age of 17, through self-instruction, he mastered essential common subjects.
"Ambitious and passionate about further education," Pickett said, Woodson moved to Fayette County, W. Va. to work as a coal miner to fund his education and dedicate a few months to school. In 1895 he attended Douglass High School, graduating in two years. Woodson then became a teacher for Fayette County, which led to his position as principal of Douglass High School in 1900.

During Wood- son’s tenure as principal, he took classes part-time and received his Bachelors of Literature from Berea College in Kentucky. From there, Woodson went to serve as school supervisor in the Philippines and later received his A.B. and M.A from the University of Chicago in 1908. Woodson became affiliated with Harvard University and worked on his PhD in history while being a full-time teacher
in Washington D.C. Pickett challenged the students. Woodson then went on to becoming a professor and dean for the College of Arts and Science at Howard University. Woodson decided to leave Howard University in 1915.

Pickett admires Woodson’s decision to leave Howard University in 1915 to focus his life on black history.

"Dr. Woodson made a critical decision that undoubtedly impacts history and the observance of history as we know it," Pickett said.

Woodson dedicated his life to chronicle the historical contributions of individuals of African descent, hoping to aid the suppression of Africans.
" 'They [Africans] were overlooked, ignored and even suppressed by the writers of history textbooks and the teachers who use them,' " Pickett said in a quote from Woodson. " 'Race prejudice is merely the logical result of tradition, the inevitable outcome of thorough instruction to the effect that the Negro has never contributed anything to the progress of mankind.' "

Woodson believed that African History
was marginalized and misrepresented by
scholars. To combat this, he founded the
Association for the Study of Negro Life and 
History which, in 1916, began publication
of the scholarly Journal of Negro History.
This journal is still produced today under
the title Journal of African American History major.

Through Woodson’s efforts, in 1926, he manages to pioneer "Negro History Week" to celebrate the accomplishments and contributions of African Americans. The second week of February was chosen because it coincided with the birthdays of Fredrick Douglas and Abraham Lincoln, whom Woodson felt were paramount pillars to African American life at the time. This led to the foundation of Black History Month.

Woodson’s life not only emphasizes the importance of Black history, but the American dream.

"His legacy as an educator and historian solidi’s the blueprint for the passion of success. From the coal elds of West Virginia to the hallways of Harvard University, from the classrooms of Howard University to the Library of Congress, the father of Black History Month understood that his journey was important," Pickett said. "Indeed, all of our journeys and contributions are important and must be chronicled. He understood that the pursuit of further education was critical in obtaining one’s goals in life."

Pickett emphasized the importance that no one’s heritage should be marginalized, especially in the melting pot of legacy we call America. Pickett then motivated everyone to pick up after their forbearers, lighting the way of enlightenment and carrying on the torch.

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