When Carter G. Woodson launched Negro History Week in 1926, white mobs still lynched black citizens with impunity, black students attended inferior segregated schools and black patrons were not allowed to stay at major hotels in Montgomery or Memphis. There were no black players in the major leagues, no black Cabinet secretaries and no black generals or admirals in the armed forces.
Woodson, who was born to former slaves but went on to earn a Harvard doctorate, believed that America ought to recognize the significant contributions that its black citizens had made to the nation’s cultural and civic life — contributions that were ignored in (or, in some cases, expunged from) the historical record. So he chose the week in which both Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln were born to commemorate the substantial achievements of black Americans against heartbreaking odds.
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