08 Nov The Unhidden Black History of the New River Gorge
On a visit to the New River Gorge National Park, I hiked through the preserved ruins of the community in which historian Carter Godwin Woodson spent his formative years. Known as the “Father of Black History”, he worked as a coal miner in the town of Nuttallburg, West Virginia. Just a few miles from the visitor center, down a very step narrow road, are the remaining structures in which Woodson likely worked as a young man, as well as the schoolhouse where he first taught Black students.
This minor detour on during my annual project to report on the delivery of the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree was great reminder of what we can miss when trailing through our own country. Here in our latest national park site to date these public lands preserve our shared heritage from which we can learn to better informed and engaged citizens. Born in 1875, Woodson was a trailblazing Black American historian, educator, and author. He dedicated his life to the study and promotion of African American history, making significant contributions to the field of African American studies. His work played a pivotal role in challenging prevailing racist narratives and creating a more accurate and inclusive historical record.
Despite facing significant obstacles, Woodson managed to graduate from high school and later attended Berea College in Kentucky, where he earned his bachelor’s degree. He went on to earn a master’s degree from the University of Chicago and became the second Black American to receive a doctorate from Harvard University, focusing on the history of the American South.
But in this area, during his career as an educator, Woodson worked in various educational institutions, including serving as the principal of Douglass High School in Huntington, West Virginia, from 1900 to 1903. It was around this time that he also worked with a segregated Black school in Nuttallburg.
One of Woodson’s most enduring legacies is the establishment of Negro History Week, which later evolved into Black History Month. In 1926, he initiated the celebration of Negro History Week to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, both of whom played pivotal roles in African American history. This celebration aimed to highlight the contributions and achievements of Black individuals and communities throughout our history.
His tenure as an educator, as well as his life in the coal mining communities of West Virginia, provided Woodson with valuable insights and experiences that influenced his perspectives on the importance of education and the need for a more accurate representation of Black American history. The story of his legacy is memorialized at the Nuttallburg site in the New River Gorge National Park.
The Unhidden Black History Project is supported through an Explorer’s Grant from the National Geographic Society in partnership with the National Park Service. Transportation is provided by Volkswagen of America