The Miseducation of the Negro

What we are still learning from Dr. Carter G. Woodson

Dr. Carter G. Woodson

100 years ago, Dr. Carter G. Woodson wrote the Miseducation of the Negro. The book was not just a deconstruction of the topic, but a roadmap to resolution. Four chapters of his groundbreaking work were devoted to ‘the new program’ that would resolve centuries of miseducation.

Many say that conditions in Black Americans are getting better, but the problems that plagued us almost 100 years ago still plague us today. This begs the question; why has it taken us a century to implement his program?

Who Is Dr. Carter G. Woodson – Accomplishments and Philosophy

Carter G. Woodson was born on December 19, 1857 in New Canton, Virginia Woodson was the oldest of 9 children, and grew up in a typically poor Black family. To help his family, young Woodson worked in coal mines full time, but his love of learning also kept him in school full time as well.

He completed elementary school, high school, and became principal of the all-black Douglass High School at the age of 25. He continued his education at Harvard, where he became the second Black man (behind W.E.B. DuBois) to receive a Ph.D. in 1912. He studied throughout Africa and the Philippines, and spoke French fluently.

We have Dr. Carter G. Woodson to thank for Black History Month in the United States. Contrary to popular belief, February was not chosen because it was the shortest day of the year, but because the 13th Amendment (which outlawed slavery) was officially signed on January 31st. The announcement was made in February, and therefore Black History Month is then celebrated.

Dr. Woodson was a founding member of the Niagara Movement (which later became the NAACP), a regular columnist for Marcus Garvey’s newspaper The Negro World, and a witness to the Harlem Renaissance.

But for all of his accomplishments, The Miseducation of the Negro is arguably the crowning glory of Dr. Woodson’s work. In it, he described how the plight of our people at the time was the result of a process of miseducation imposed upon us by our oppressors using politics, religion, and the public school system.

He writes; “At a Negro summer school two years ago, a white instructor gave a course on the Negro, using for his text a work that teaches whites are superior to blacks”, and “In medical schools Negroes were likewise convinced of their inferiority in being reminded of their role as germ carriers”.

Black children then grew up, thoroughly indoctrinated in the belief that they were intellectually inferior germ carriers, and that their history began with slavery.

What is terrifying is that a century later, our young Black students are still being indoctrinated with those falsehoods.

Remember when activists, parents, and community organizers rallied in Norcross, Georgia? The protest called for the firing of teachers at Beaver Ridge Elementary School that used racist slave references to teach math to Black students.

The math problems, which included references to cotton, orange picking and beatings, went something like this; “If Frederick got two beatings per day, how many beatings did he get in 1 week?”

Black History month education is still limited to re-enacting slave auctions and teaching Black students to play runaway slave games.

Precisely the environment that Dr. Carter G. Woodson sought to eliminate in his time.

Why The Negro Needs A Different Kind Of Political Education 

Every election season, we are reminded of the role that politics plays in the miseducation of the Negro. Dr. Woodson writes:

Large numbers of Negroes become excited over the contest and give much attention to it as a matter of importance. The corrupt methods of the American political system, however, should be condemned as a disgrace to the nation and the state. Instead of doing something to get rid of this ilk, we find the “highly educated” Negroes trying to plunge into the mire.

One of the most discouraging aspects in negro life recently observed was the presidential campaign. Negroes temporarily abandoned their work to round up votes for the candidate. When the successful candidate had been elected, he treated those same Negroes with contempt.
When you think of the fact that the Negroes who are being used are supposedly the most highly educated men, you have to wonder if we have made any progress since the Emancipation.

That was 1933. In 2019, Negroes are still getting worked up over FIXED political systems, rather than demanding changes in policy.

We can attack or promote candidates – Black or otherwise – but as long as laws and policies like the War on Drugs, the NDAA, and the sanctioned invasion and exploitation of sovereign Black countries remain in practice, our votes count for shit.

The Need For Service Rather Than Leadership

Dr. Carter G. Woodson’s admonishment are more valid today than ever: Black America needs more service and less leadership.

  • For every one Jesse Jackson, there are 100,000 Black men and women sitting on their ass and criticizing him.
  • For every one Louis Farrakhan, there are hundreds more who pretend they dont see America’s hypocrisy.
  • For every one Al Sharpton, there are millions who watch him on television.
  • For every one community organizer, there is a whole neighborhood of Black men and women who do nothing.

We dont need any more Black Messiahs, organizational leaders, or big men. In fact, individual leaders create vulnerabilities that could destroy a movement.

Individual leaders become egotists, and their organizations become fan clubs. The Nation of Islam becomes the Louis Farrakhan Fan Club. The Democratic Party becomes the Barack Obama Fan Club. The ANC becomes the Julius Malema Fan Club.

When a member raises questions about the ideas of the leader, that member is kicked out of the fan club, and a falling out occurs. This increases our division and decreases our odds of success as a collective. These egotistical leaders must come to understand that they are servants and representatives of the movement and its ideology, not of themselves and their personal prejudices!

Instead of giving praise ad nauseum to individual leaders, Dr. Carter G. Woodson gives us this wisdom:

If the Negro could abandon the idea of leadership and instead stimulate a larger number of the race to take up definite tasks and sacrifice their time and energy in doing something worthwhile, the race might accomplish something. The race needs workers, not leaders. Such workers will solve the the problems which race leaders talk about and raise money to enable them to talk more and more about.

Under leadership we have come into the ghetto; by service within our ranks we may work our way out of it. Under leadership we have been constrained to do the bidding of others; by service we may work out a program in the light of our own circumstances. Under leadership we have become poverty-stricken; by service we may teach the masses how to earn a living honestly. Under leadership we have been made to despise ourselves and each other; by service we may develop ourselves and contribute to one another, and to our culture as a whole

Powerful Dr. Carter G. Woodson Quotes

Dr. Carter G. Woodson later in life.

When you hear a man talking, then always ask his what he has done for humanity. Oratory and resolutions do not avail much. If they did, the Negro race would be in paradise on Earth.

The final chapters of the Miseducation outline Dr. Woodson’s new program. The most powerful points are listed below:

  • Ministers who are creations of the old educational system must be awakened, and if this is impossible, they must be dethroned.
  • Those who keep the people in ignorance and play upon their emotions must be exiled.
  • We should not close any accredited Negro Colleges or Universities, but rather we should reconstruct the whole system.
  • We should redefine the purpose of higher education as a means to create programs to serve the lowest amongst our race, rather than as a means to live a posh and aristocratic lifestyle. (In other words, a new generation of scholar-warriors must rise to serve and build our communities)

Negroes do not need someone to guide them to what persons of another race have developed. They must be taught to think and develop something themselves. 


  • It is most pathetic to see Negroes begging “Do not force us into poverty! Let us come into your stores and factories and be a part of your team that we may profit by trade”. The Negro as a slave developed this fatal sort of dependency and has not grown out of it. Now the Negro is faced with the dilemma to either learn to do for self, or die out in the bread lines in the ghetto.
  • Can the Negro youth, miseducated by persons who depreciate their efforts, learn to make opportunities for themselves? This is the real problem which the Negro must solve, and he who is not interested in it and makes no effort to solve it is worthless in the present struggle.
  • While Negroes themselves are spending their time, money, and energy in riotous living, the foreigners come to dwell among them in modest circumstances long enough to get rich, and to join those who close in on these unfortunate economies until all hopes for their redemption are lost. if the Negro is to escape starvation and rise out of poverty , they must change their way of thinking and living. The Negro has learned from others how to spend money much faster than he has learned how to earn it.
  • Too many Negros go into higher professions just to own nice cars and spend money on fine homes and clothes. Instead, Negro medical schools and their graduates must do more preaching for the necessity for improving conditions which determine health and eradicate disease. The greatest problem awaiting solution is the investigation of the differential resistance of the races to disease. What are the diseases of which Negroes are more susceptible to than whites?
  • The new Negro in politics will not be so unwise as to join the ignorant delegations from conferences and conventions which stage annual pilgrimages to the White House to complain to the President because they have socially and economically failed to measure up to the demands of self-preservation. The Negro should endeavor to be a figure in politics, not a tool for politicians.

Europe did not arrive in Africa on a holy mission of converting ‘natives’ to Christendom, nor did they come to the continent to bring the ‘light’ of European education to our ancestors. Europe arrived in Africa on a mission of domination fueled by consumption - nothing more.

Dr. Carter G. Woodson Books

So much wisdom is contained in The Miseducation of the Negro that EVERY so-called conscious Black Man or Woman should have it on their bookshelves and review it regularly.

Pick it up, along with some other works by and on Dr. Carter G. Woodson below.

In addition to Miseducation, Dr. Woodson authored more than 15 books, 125 book reviews, and 100 articles. Here are a few that should be in your collection.

Carter G. Woodson joined the Ancestors on April 3, 1950. At the time of his transition, he was working on a six volume Encyclopedia Africana. He left behind no children and was never married. When asked why, his response was “I am married…to my work”. 

His Washington, D.C. home has been preserved and designated the Carter G. Woodson Home National Historic Site.

Have you read The Miseducation of the Negro? If so, what did the book and Dr. Carter G. Woodson mean to you? Leave a comment below.

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