The Mis-education of the
Negro
Carter G. Woodson
The Father of Black
History
The Man
•
Born 1875 in New Canton, VA to Anne and James Henry Woodson, former slaves. Woodson. was the first Black of
enslaved parents to earn a PhD.
•
1895-Enrolls in Douglass High School, finishes in two years.
•
1897-1898 Studies at Berea College in KY
•
Attends Lincoln University and completes one year of undergrad
•
1900-03 Attends the University of Chicago during the summer, completes his degree by correspondence course in
1908.
•
*After being admitted to the U of C Woodson is told that he is deficient in the general course
requirements, but they accept his work from Berea anyway.
•
Earns B.A. from U of C in 1908 and an M.A. from there in August of the same year. Both degrees are in history
with an emphasis on European History.
•
Earns a PhD from Harvard in 1912, joins the NAACP that year as well.
•
Seeks membership into the Washington D.C. Harvard Club but his membership is cancelled once they
learn that he is Black.
•
1915 Organizes the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History in Chicago.
•
1915 Accepts invitation to speak at Tuskegee from BTW.
The Man cont’d
•
1916 Establishes the Journal of Negro History.
•
1918 Meets with W.E.B. Du Bois to discuss NAACP plans to publish work on Black
participation in the Civil War.
•
1920 Serves as Dean of the College of Liberal Arts at Howard University, but is soon
terminated after disagreeing with its white president.
•
1923 Invites Du Bois to speak at ASNLH.
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1926 Establishes Negro History week in February.
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1931-32 Begins to publish criticism about the failings of historically Black colleges’ and
universities’ approach to teaching liberal arts and sciences.
•
1933 Publishes The Miseducation of the Negro.
•
Continues to publish and research Black history until his sudden death of a heart attack in
1950.
“The Seat of the Trouble”
•
“Highly educated” or educated Blacks are contributing to the miseducation of the Negro by buying into the idea that we have
contributed nothing to human civilization.
•
“...Negroes are taught to admire the Hebrew, the Greek the Latin and
the Teuton and to despise the African” (1).
•
“The education of the Negroes, then, the most important thing in the
uplift of the Negroes, is almost entirely in the hands of those who have
enslaved them and now segregate them” (22).
•
“The present system under the control of the whites trains the Negro
to be white and at the same time convinces him of the impropriety or
the impossibility of his becoming white” (23).
Overview of Woodson’s
Thesis
• The mis-education of postReconstruction Blacks consists of
several key elements:
•
Blacks were taught to hate themselves and to think of themselves
as inferior to other races.
•
Blacks educated in the U.S. did not learn any marketable skills so
that they could support themselves.
•
Highly educated blacks tended toward corruption in politics and the
church (when they were allowed in at all).
•
Highly educated blacks had no desire to help uplift the masses.
•
Although Woodson does not state this explicitly, I would argue that
he might also see slavery as a system of education.
“The Failure to Learn to Make a
Living”
•
Woodson’s biggest issue is the failure of a college education to
provide its graduates with marketable skills:
•
“The greatest indictment of such education as Negroes have
received, however, is that they have thereby learned little as to
making a living, the first essential in civilization” (38).
•
Thinking about the current state of higher education in the U.S. and
our conversation last week, has anything changed? And could we
apply this across the board to anyone who receives a college degree,
not just Black folks?
Politics, the Church, and why un-educated
Negroes are getting it right
•
Woodson takes up the issue of Reconstruction, accusing (and rightly so) historians of
rewriting history in defense of slavery as a means to keep Black out of political processes.
He discusses how Blacks were kept from voting or even discussing politics. (p. 85-89).
•
He accused educated Blacks of abandoning their brethren in favor of the pursuit of more
materialistic aims. Woodson was especially incensed at those who left traditional Black
churches. “How an ‘educated Negro’ can thus leave the church of his people and accept such
jimcrowism has always been a puzzle...It may be a sort of slave psychology which causes this
preference for the leadership of the oppressor” (55).
•
“The ‘uneducated’ Negro business man, however, is actually at work doing the very thing
which the ‘mis-educated’ Negro has been taught to believe cannot be done” (44).
•
Woodson relates several examples of uneducated Blacks who are doing well in business, the
woman who bakes sweet potato biscuits, the woman who serves the chicken boxes, and
others.
On Reconstruction, or the
re-education of the negro
•
“The program for the uplift of the Negro in this country must be based upon a scientific study
of the Negro from within to develop in him the power to do for himself what his oppressors will
never elevate him to the level of others” (144).
•
“The Negro teacher, then, must treat the disease rather than its symptoms” (145).
•
Woodson is really invested in re-imagining the Black church (sans sectionalism) in order to aid
in the re-educating of Black folk. “Negroes should forget their differences and in the strengths
of a united church bring out a new interpretation of Christ into this willing world” (147).
•
He sees HBIs as engaged in this process of re-education as well: “We should not close any
accredited Negro colleges or universities, but we should reconstruct the whole system” (149).
•
English and composition are paramount (yay!) but with a focus on African folklore, philosophy,
proverbs, languages, and literature instead of white western classical literature and
languages.
On Reconstruction, or the
re-education of the negro
•
Woodson is most interested in Blacks learning their own histories, indeed, his program of
education includes “studying also the history of races and nations which have been purposely
ignored” (154).
•
Vocational education should include the development of new technologies as the current
(early 20th century) programs were inadequate in light of the industrialization of the nation.
•
Lawyers, doctors, and other professionals should be working in the service of the Black
masses, and lawyers in particular have a duty to interrogate racism and the ways in which
Blacks have been misrepresented in the courts. Doctors are urged to work to advocate for
improving the conditions in which Blacks live, and thereby improving their health as well.
•
Blacks are urged to use their political power judiciously: “Any people who will vote the same
way for three generations without thereby obtaining results ought to be ignored and
disfranchised” (183).
Same $hit, Different day, Or the miseducation of
21st Century Negroes: Questions for Discussion
•
A few matters of concern:
•
Woodson seems to be rather essentialist. For example, he states:
•
“The negro is a gifted singer” (78); and “We scarcely realize what a poor showing we
make in dramatics in spite of our natural aptitude in this sphere” (80).
•
“The unusual gifts of the race have not thereby been developed, and and unwilling
world, therefore, continues to wonder what the Negro is good for” (7)
•
Has this bitten black folk in the behind in the behind in the same fashion that BTW’s
five fingers speech did? How do current and previous trends in American culture
figure in his assertion that Blacks have “natural” abilities in certain areas, such as
sports? How has this contributed to the mis-education of 21st century Blacks?
•
Woodson does not account for human agency in this text at all. In fact, he claims that
blacks don’t know any better and will always do as they are told if they are not reeducated. Is there any way to reconcile agency with the notion of miseducation? I’m
thinking about his indictment of the black bourgeoisie's (the Talented Tenth’s) neglect
of the masses.
•
What, if anything, has changed in regards to the education of Black folk in the U.S
education system?
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1916 Establishes the Journal of Negro History.