Other Free Encyclopedias » Online Encyclopedia » Encyclopedia - Featured Articles » Contributed Topics from A-E » Association for the Study of Negro Life and History - WOODSON’S EARLY LIFE, WOODSON’S EDUCATION, NEGRO HISTORY WEEK, FUNDING THE ASSOCIATION, GREAT LEADERSHIP


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In the summer of 1915 Woodson journeyed to Chicago to attend the Exposition of Negro Progress, which was being held to mark fifty years of black freedom. While living at Chicago’s downtown YMCA during the exposition, Woodson met a number of other black history enthusiasts and became convinced that the time was ripe to organize them. Thus on September 9, before returning to Washington, Dr. Woodson organized the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH). According to Dr. Charles Wesley, one of Woodson’s biographers, “he was convinced by this date that the Negro would become a negligible factor in the thought of the world and would stand in danger of being exterminated unless something was done to rescue him from history’s neglect at that time” (Wesley 1965, p. 173).

Four people helped Woodson form the ASNLH: George Cleveland Hall, Booker T. Washington’s personal physician; W. B. Hartgrove, a teacher in the Washington D.C. public schools; Alexander L. Jackson, the executive secretary of the Wabash YMCA in Chicago; and James Stamps, a Yale University graduate student in economics. In October Woodson returned to Washington and incorporated the ASNLH as a not-for-profit historical and educational organization. The board of directors included its founding members. He bought a house at 1538 Ninth Street, Northwest. In addition to living here, the house served as the association’s national headquarters for the remainder of his life. Also in 1915, Woodson published his first book, The Education of the Negro Prior to 1861 , which is often referred to as his most scholarly book.

On January 1, 1916, Woodson published the first issue of his quarterly Journal of Negro Life and History . To finance the printing of the first issue, Woodson borrowed four hundred dollars against his $2,000 life insurance policy. He mailed copies of the first Journal to the ASNLH membership and to white foundations, and each copy was accompanied by a request for donations and subscription orders. He raised enough money in this way to pay for the printing of the second issue.

While Woodson served as executive director of the association, George Cleveland Hall became its first president in 1916. A renowned surgeon, social activist, and community leader, Hall was a vice president of the Urban League, an early member of the NAACP, and a tireless leader for black rights. He was also instrumental in the operation of Chicago’s now extant Provident Hospital. (For many years Provident was the only private hospital in Chicago that would treat blacks.) The Dr. Cleveland Hall Library, located on the south side of Chicago, is a monument to his memory.

Robert E Park, a white sociologist with nine years experience as public relations director for Booker T. Washington and the Tuskegee Institute, became the only white president of the association in 1917. He served in this position until 1921. Park had been a professor at the University of Chicago, and he was to become a teacher and mentor of the pioneering black sociologists Charles S. Johnson and E. Franklin Frazier.

In 1917 the first national meeting of the ASNLH was held in Washington, D.C. Since then the annual meeting of the association has attracted members and observers from all over the country. Held in different cities each year, the event attracts upward of a thousand participants who attend educational and historical workshops, meetings, and a variety of other events. Current leaders in the fields of history, education, sociology, and other relevant professions are invited to speak and make presentations. Representatives of other scholarly associations and book publishers usually are present.

Whereas the association is now housed at Howard University and has a small staff, during its early years it barely survived. The publicity engendered by his Harvard degree helped Woodson create an Executive Council, which once included luminaries such as Julius Rosen-wald, the millionaire retailer; George Foster Peabody; J.G. Phelps Stokes, of the Phelps Stokes Fund; and Jesse Moorland, the national secretary of the YMCA.

Woodson worked like a one-man band, lecturing, teaching, researching, writing, and publishing. He used part of his salary from his regular teaching jobs to help keep the ASNLH afloat. To save money he often cleaned the association’s office himself. In 1918 he was appointed principal of the Armstrong School in Washington, D.C. He also published another scholarly work , A Century of Negro Migration , in which he documented some of the most pressing issues facing African Americans.

Howard University appointed Woodson to the position of Dean of the School of Liberal Arts in 1919. However, a conflict with Howard’s white president, J. Stanley Durkee, over the issue of academic freedom led to his being fired just one year after he joined the staff. His friend John Davis, who had just become president of West Virginia State College (then known as West Virginia Collegiate Institute), offered Woodson a position at his school. After two years at this institution, Woodson found that academic administration was not to his liking, and he left the college.

In 1921, while he was still living in Virginia, he published The History of the Negro Church , a pioneering work on the subject. In 1922 he published The Negro in Our History , one of his best-selling works. By 1972 twelve editions of the book had been printed. In 1922 he also established Associated Publishers, an independent book publishing organization that he created after having trouble with biased white publishers.

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