Keeping a Legacy from Crumbling
In 2001, the National Trust for Historic Preservation placed the former home of the late Dr. Carter G. Woodson on its annual list of the most endangered historic places in the United States — an ironic fate for a place connected to the man who ranks as perhaps the greatest advocate for the preservation of African American history.
The recognition awakened thousands of people to the plight of the Washington, D.C., residence where the father of Black History Month lived from 1915 until his death in 1950. The 1890s Victorian-style red brick townhouse, located in the historic Shaw neighborhood in northwest Washington, has sat vacant since the 1970s, decaying and nearly forgotten. The home is still empty today, and has suffered considerable interior damage, including structural decay resulting from water leaks in the building.
Since making the endangered list in 2001, a national campaign has been under way to raise funds and to enlist the National Park Service and the U.S. Congress to preserve and restore the home, now owned by the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), an organization founded by Woodson. Once it is restored, the ASALH wants to relocate its national headquarters there, as well as have the home serve as a museum showcasing Woodson’s life and work.
“Dr. Carter Woodson spoke out for the preservation of African American history and culture at a time when it was very unpopular to do so,” says Richard Moe, president of the National Trust. “He recognized the importance of saving America’s unique cultural treasures. Certainly the home where he lived and worked deserves to be rescued so future generations can be inspired by Dr. Woodson’s remarkable legacy.”
While a congressionally mandated study in 2001 by the Park Service recommended the home be designated a National Park site, a bill authorizing the Park Service to take over and manage the Woodson home is expected to be introduced in the House of Representatives this month, according to Doxie McCoy, a spokeswoman in the office of U.S. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-Washington, D.C.
The ASALH Web site’s fund-raising page reports that the total cost to restore the Woodson home, develop exhibits, and acquire additional properties for exhibit space will range from $3.275 million to $3.525 million. Dr. Gloria Harper Dickinson, president of the ASALH, says getting Congress and the Park Service on board will alleviate the association’s burden of having to raise most of those funds. Since 2001, the association has raised just $75,000, which has paid for construction to stabilize the house.
“Think about it. If everyone who’s attending a Black History Month event this year were to donate a dollar to this effort, the project could be completed virtually overnight,” Dickinson says, noting that the Woodson campaign has gotten very little corporate support.
“American corporations spend millions of dollars on print and broadcast media ads in support of Black History Month, yet we struggle to make people aware that the home of the man responsible for Black History Month needs fixing up,” she adds.
As a result of the push to raise funds for the Woodson house, ASALH developed an agreement with the Tavis Smiley Foundation to jointly publicize a different neglected African American historic site on a monthly basis. The sites can be viewed online at the ASALH Web pages.
Born in 1875 to former slaves, Woodson, a prolific writer and researcher, founded the ASALH in 1915 to disseminate little-known and ignored information about Black history in Africa and the Americas. The ASALH began publishing the scholarly digest Journal of Negro History in 1916. In February 1926, Woodson announced the establishment of “Negro History Week,” to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. In 1976 — 26 years after his death — Woodson’s declared week of African-American history celebration was extended and nationally proclaimed Black History Month.
As an educator, Woodson served as faculty member and dean at Howard University and West Virginia State College. Woodson wrote or co-wrote 22 books, including the notable The Miseducation of the Negro, as well as works such as The Education of the Negro Prior to 1861, A Century of Negro Migration, The History of the Negro Church, and The Negro in Our History.
For more information on the preservation efforts of the Woodson house, visit
— By Ronald Roach
© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com