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'Father of Black History' House Named National Historic Site

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 3, 2004 – The house here in this city's northwest section where the "Father of Black History," lived, worked and launched "Negro History Week" in 1926 is now a National Historic Site, thanks to the U.S. Congress.

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Sylvia Cyrus-Albritton, interim executive director of The Association for the Study of African American Life and History, poses in front of the Carter G. Woodson house at 1538 9th St. in northwest Washington, D.C. Congress designated the house a National Historic Site in November. Photo by Rudi Williams
  

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The Senate passed the Carter G. Woodson House Bill on Nov. 24, 2003, making Woodson's home a historic site, according to Sylvia Cyrus-Albritton, interim executive director of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, which Woodson created in 1915.

The congressional designation places the house in the National Park Service system, which makes the park service responsible for the preservation and protection of the three-story, 1880s Victorian-style row house in what's called the "Heart of Black Washington."

Cyrus-Albritton said President Clinton signed an act on July 21, 2000, authorizing a study to identify the national significance of the Carter G. Woodson home as a historic site.

Public Law 106-349, which was enacted on Oct. 24, 2000, mandated the National Park Service to conduct a special resource study to evaluate the potential for the future management and operations of the Woodson home and to determine what role the federal government might play.

The association's mission is to promote, research, preserve, interpret and disseminate information about African-American life, history and culture to the global community. With temporary headquarters on Washington's Howard University campus, the association operates local, state and international branches promoting greater knowledge of African-American history through a program of education, research and publishing, according to Cyrus-Albritton.

Woodson, the son of former slaves who taught himself to read and write, launched Negro History Week as an initiative to bring national attention to the contributions of African-American people throughout American history. He obtained a bachelor's degree from the University of Chicago in 1907, attended the Sorbonne University in Paris, where he became fluent in French; and received a doctorate degree in history from Harvard University in 1912, becoming only the second African American to earn such a degree.

"It was Dr. Woodson's hope that this special observance would remind all Americans of their ethnic roots, and create a togetherness and mutual respect for each other's backgrounds among different racial groups in the United States," Cyrus-Albritton said.

In March 1976, President Carter spearheaded an effort to extend the observance to a month-long celebration. The name was changed to "Black History Month."

"During Dr. Woodson's life, there was very little information and a lack of knowledge concerning African American life and history," Cyrus-Albritton noted. "Through his extensive studies, Dr. Woodson almost single-handedly established African American historiography. His research literally uncovered black history and helped to educate the American public about the contributions of African Americans to the nation's history and culture. Through scholarly and painstaking historical research, his work has aided in overcoming the stereotypical portrayals of black people that have limited our history as a nation."

Noting that Woodson's efforts brought worldwide attention to African American history, Cyrus-Albritton said his goals were to promote racial harmony by uncovering the contributions of African Americans to the nation's history.

"He believed if people understood the rich contributions that African Americans have made, and continue to make to the nation's history, they would respect and see these people as productive citizens to our society," she said.

"Dr. Woodson dedicated his entire life to this work, choosing to never marry or have children," Cyrus-Albritton said. "His work was his life, and the Woodson home is a symbol of a movement that has yet to be fully realized."

She said the preservation of the Carter G. Woodson home is necessary to ensure that future generations will be able to assemble in the house in which he labored many long hours in his effort to promote racial harmony among all Americans through his extensive research of African Americans.

"It was in this house that Dr. Woodson penned some of his greatest works and trained nearly two generations of African American scholars in this house," Cyrus-Albritton noted.

Woodson published many volumes of history, including "The Education of the Negro Prior to 1861" (published in 1915), and "A Century of Negro Migration" (1918), "The Mis-Education of the Negro" (1933), and "The Negro in Our History" (1922), which became the standard text on African American history for many years. He also edited the "Journal of Negro History" for 34 years.

One of his famous sayings is, "If a race has no history, if it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated."

The house also is the original home of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, where scholars met to "discuss their largely ignored past," Cyrus-Albritton noted.

Over the years, the Woodson home fell into disrepair. "The house is in need of immediate rehabilitation the conditions are deplorable," Cyrus-Albritton said. "Some of the very noticeable conditions that need repair are a leaky roof (which has been tentatively repaired), broken windows, peeling plaster and sidings that are coming apart," Cyrus-Albritton noted. "The flooring is so tenuous that the architect hired by the association said there should not be more than five people in the house at any one time."

She broke down the estimated cost of the renovation: Woodson home restoration, $675,000; visitor center development, $1.5 million; interpretive exhibits, $500,000; land acquisition, $750,000; and annual operating costs, $100,000, for a total of more than $3.5 million.

A percentage of the money will be provided through the National Park Service system. Some of it has to be raised through private donations.

The home is a national treasure, because, although the historic theme of African American educators, scholars, historians, chroniclers and leaders is represented in the National Park System, none of the sites addresses Woodson or African American history as a general subject, Cyrus-Albritton noted.

"No other sites managed by the National Park System matches the potential of the Woodson home to create a public understanding and appreciation of Dr. Woodson's contribution to American history," she said.

After it's renovated, the house will serve as the association's headquarters and a research museum. The association is working with the newly created Negro League Legends Hall of Fame in researching, preserving and publishing materials that highlight the contributions African American baseball players made to the development of major league baseball, the African American community, and American society. The project will include multimedia teaching material for primary and secondary schools, an online oral history project and scholarly publications, Cyrus-Albritton said.

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageSylvia Cyrus-Albritton said the Carter G. Woodson house in northwest Washington, D.C., is a national treasure deserving of being a National Historic Site because of its significance to African American heritage and culture and to American history as a whole. Cyrus-Albritton is the interim executive director of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. Photo by Rudi Williams  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageThe plaque on the Carter G. Woodson house in northwest Washington, D.C., reads: "This site possesses national significance in commemorating the history of the United States of America." It was affixed to the house in 1976 by the National Park Service after it was designated a National Historic Landmark. Congress upgraded it to a National Historic Site in November. Photo by Rudi Williams  
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