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Carter G. Woodson and the Origins of Multiculturalism

HICKAM AIR FORCE BASE, Hawaii -- From its inception, America has been a landscape peopled by diverse ethnic and racial groups, and today virtually all peoples are represented. Even though America has always been racially and ethnically diverse, the nation's self-image has not always recognized its multicultural history. Until the last decades of the twentieth century, America has seen itself largely as the flowering of Anglo-Saxon culture and prided itself on allowing immigrants to adopt the American way.

During the early years of the twentieth century, a small number of intellectuals began to question whether America was simply a transplant of English civilization. W. E. B. Du Bois, Theodore  Herzel, and Randolph Bourne believed modern America should embrace the cultural differences newcomers brought with them to America. Democracy, they believed, required tolerance of difference and could sustain those differences in harmony. 

During the dawning decades of the twentieth century, it was commonly presumed black
people had little history besides the subjugation of slavery. Today, it is clear blacks have
significantly impacted the development of the social, political and economic structures of the United States and the world. Credit for the evolving awareness of the true place of blacks in history can, in large part, be bestowed on one man, Carter G. Woodson.

Recognizing the scarcity of information on the accomplishments of blacks in 1915, Dr. Woodson founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, now called the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH). That association continues Woodson's tradition of disseminating information about black life, history and culture to the global community.

Under Woodson's pioneering leadership, the Association created research and publication outlets for black scholars with the establishment of the Journal of Negro History (1916) and the Negro History Bulletin (1937), which garner popular public appeal.

In 1926, Dr. Woodson initiated the celebration of Negro History Week, which corresponded with the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. In 1976, this celebration was expanded to include the entire month of February. Today Black History Month garners support throughout the country as people of all ethnic and social backgrounds discuss the black American experience. The association views the promotion of Black History Month as one of the most important components of advancing Dr. Woodson's legacy.

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