Revisiting Carter G. Woodson’s “Miseducation of the Negro” in an “Alt-Right” World

Carter G. Woodson's Lesson's On Thriving And Surviving is still relevant today

Andre Spivey

Andre has over 10 years of experience in Tech and Start-ups ranging from the advanced tech in the US Air Force to building his own educational software company Live 2 Learn Differently. His is a proud graduate of Morris Brown College and Cornell University.

Parallels Between 1933 and 2016

To really understand where Mr. Woodson was coming from we must have a sound understanding of the nation’s climate during the period in which he wrote the book. It is important simply to understand it’s political climate, but we must also understand it’s social and moral climate, as there are similar parallels to much of today’s climate. It is also important to recognize the economic climate during this time period.


On a political level, minorities were given the right to vote in 1870, but local barriers prevented minorities from exercising these rights all the way up until the 60’s. These local barriers were a mix of moving polls to places that minorities could not reach, creating tests that only minorities had to take, intimidation by local hate groups and more.


Recently we’ve seen this put back into practice during the Presidential race in 2016, states such as Wisconsin, Georgia, Indiana, North Carolina and others, created voter I.D. laws, decreased early voting acceptance, held up approving voter list and more.


This doesn’t include “alt-right” and conservative groups regularly committing violent acts during election rallies. Churches were burned, voters were attacked, some were intimidated out of jobs they’d worked for years due to daily harassment in person and online.


In 2016 we were able to vote, but it appears that our vote did not impact much, in fact, most citizen’s votes were ignored in favor of the electoral college.


Back then, economically America was at a crossroads, it had for years relied on agriculture as it’s “bread and butter,” it was one of the main economic exports. The world, however, was becoming increasingly globalized, so import of goods and materials from other countries, hurt what was already a slowing agriculture industry.


It’s previously free slave labor source was gone; now it was forced to rely on skilled workers, using specialized equipment to manage farms and factories, this cost money, which often times companies did not have or did not want to pay.


Herbert Hoover, the President during this period, promised much of the same rhetoric, that the President-Elect Donald Trump is promising. Herbert Hoover promised to bring those low wage and low skilled jobs back to America. His solution was to create tariffs on imports, and so he did. A little over a decade, during a time where the world’s still reeling from Word War I and trying to become more globalized and peaceful he signed “The Tariff Act of 1930” into law. This, of course, created a trade war worldwide and hurt the U.S. economy, even more, starting the era known as “The Great Depression,” eventually leading to a second world war.


Just as Southern and Rust Belt workers, were eager to blame things on minorities in 2016, the same was done in 1930, Herbert Hoover, promised to be the man who fixed it, and of course, it failed creating havoc for all Americans. It would be 1933 in which Carter Woodson, wrote a stirring assessment for the time concerning African Americans.

On Education


In Carter G. Woodson’s famed “The Mis-education of the Negro, he spent an entire chapter discussing the implications of the education of minorities being under outside control. Initially, he was speaking of white Christian workers that traveled South to teach at elementary schools, and more often establish and teach at HBCU’s.


Carter G. Woodson had concern that many teachers coming from outside of the black communities did not have an understanding of the students or an understanding of what students would go through as adults.


One of his strongest quotes was concerning sympathy for students among educators, in the book, he states; “Herein, however, the emphasis is not upon the necessity for separate systems but upon the need for common sense teaching and teachers who understand and continue in sympathy with those whom they instruct.”


This is especially important today, due to the disparities in how children are treated based on parental income, race, religion and sexual orientation. Most often school funding is generated through taxed collected from property ownership and business ownership, neighborhoods that draw more income, henceforth teachers receive higher pay and increased resources to teach the students, poorer schools often have a higher minority population, but fewer resources.


These resources, often account for the lower performances of those schools, along with students facing additional challenges, such as poverty, single parent households and more. A study done at UPenn known as “The Smith-Harper Report,” examined states across the South to look at disparities in the K-12 arena and found, glaring information.


They found that blacks were suspended at approximately five times the rate of white students for the same infractions. This study even found 181 districts in which 100% of the students expelled were black.


Most studies find, that when students of all races, but especially minorities are taught by black teachers, they are expelled and suspended much less. This is where understanding the students culture, background and having empathy shows its worth.


An understanding teacher can help develop plans that inspire students in a more direct and applicable way; black teachers can use mutual shared cultural understanding to inspire black children. That was Carter G. Woodson’s assessment for the time period, and it is applicable today.

On Economics:

Mr. Wilson addressed economics in a multifaceted way, relating it to education, but also noting that education at the time did not bear a substantial effect on competing in the agriculture business.


Although more and more African Americans were furthering their education, we had yet to create an economic base to employ other African Americans. He encouraged more scientific and a deeper approach to addressing education, rather than scratching the surface simply to get a job.


In his chapter; “Failure to Make A Living” one of his most potent quotes is; “When a “Negro student works his way through college by polishing shoes he does not think of making a special study of the science underlying the production of leather and its products that one day he may be able to figure in this sphere.”


This often rings true today our mostly highly educated, go to school to learn a specific trade, but don’t study the business that factors in to make that industry possible. Lacking a business understanding of how your education relates to the outside world, limits your ability to capitalize on it to its fullest potential.


He was also discussing what is known as “brain drain,” rather than utilize this education to build within the community, or improve upon those businesses and skills, educated youth often put that education to use outside of the community.


Essentially what we’ve come to realize is that there is opportunity for African Americans to tap into the consumer base, and in order for African Americans to benefit, we must create businesses that sustain those communities. There are of course positives to education across the board, education provides for more innovative problem solving, safer communities and should create more opportunity.


More African Americans and minorities graduate from college and move forward to receive advanced degrees than any other time in history. According to current studies African American women have become America’s most educated group, these significant happenings all leave one mysterious question. Why do we remain the most underemployed group in the United States, if education leads to opportunity what happened?


Carter G. Woodson would argue that our educated are not creating businesses at a high enough rate, or utilizing those skills to further current businesses owned by African Americans. This argument is still mostly true with a caveat, and that caveat is unification of businesses for expansion.


Our businesses are not merging, which would give them more power to leverage banks and lobby politicians. As much as we all dislike the “alt-right” movement, we must acknowledge the fact that they’ve leveraged themselves into the White House.


They created informal partnerships among media groups such as Fox News and Breitbart News; they used old money from old companies to push an old agenda back into the fold.


The oil companies, seeing that they are slowly dying off, did the same and here they are once again in power. They played the game. We must begin to create our own portions of the game and play it ourselves, we must put and economic power base behind our votes and our protest, our demands must have some bite to them, and the only teeth in a capitalist nation are economic. Much of Carter G. Woodson’s philosophy can help us through not just the next four years, but the next century, regardless of who is in power.


“History shows that it does not matter who is in power or what revolutionary forces take over the government, those who have not learned to do for themselves and have to depend solely on others never obtain any more rights or privileges in the end than they had in the beginning.”
― Carter G. Woodson


Featured Image from The Chisolm Project



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