Journal of African American History, The

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Journal of African American History, The

As soon as he founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (now the Association for the Study of African American Life and History), the African-American historian Carter G. Woodson (18751950) hoped to begin publishing a "Quarterly Journal of Negro History." Prior to Woodson's establishment of this publication, white historians controlled the production and distribution of scholarship in black history through the editorial policies they formulated for scholarly journals. In January 1916, just four months after the association was founded, the first issue of the Journal of Negro History was published. Several members of Woodson's executive council believed that publishing the journal was too risky, and maintained that he should have obtained greater financial support before launching the new publication. Woodson, however, would not delay publication, for he believed that fund-raising would be easier if potential subscribers and contributors could see the product of his labors. Yet throughout his long career as editor, Woodson had to devote an inordinate amount of his time to fundraising for the journal, as it was a continual drain on his financial resources. He managed to keep it going and never missed an issue during his thirty-five-year career as editor.

The journal was the centerpiece of Woodson's research program and provided black scholars with an outlet for the publication of their research. Without it, far fewer black scholars would have been able to publish their work. It also served as an outlet for the publication of articles written by white scholars whose interpretations differed from the mainstream of the historical profession.

Through the journal, Woodson promoted black history, combated racist historiography written by white scholars, and provided a vehicle for the publication of articles on the black experience in Africa and the Americas. Woodson formulated an editorial policy that was very inclusive. Topically, the journal provided coverage on all aspects of the black experience: slavery, the slave trade, black culture, the family, religion, the treatment of slaves, resistance to slavery, antislavery and abolitionism, and biographical articles on prominent African Americans. Chronologically, articles covered the sixteenth through the twentieth centuries. Interested amateurs, as well as scholars, published important historical articles in the journal, and Woodson took care to keep this balance between contributors. Most of the early contributors were his black colleagues and associates from the Washington, D.C., public schools, Howard University, and the organizations with which he was affiliated. When he lacked enough articles, Woodson may have written articles and signed his friends' names. He also wrote the majority of book reviews in early issues, sometimes leaving them unsigned or using pseudonyms.

The authors who published in the journal were pioneers of interpretation and method in black history. They used many of the techniques that were later adopted by social historians, beginning in the 1960s. Authors pointed to the positive achievements and contributions of African Americans during slavery, emphasized black struggles against slavery, uncovered the rich cultural traditions that blacks maintained in bondage, and challenged the widely held belief in black inferiority. Many scholars published significant articles that interpreted slavery from the slaves' point of view, rather than from the masters' perspective. This interpretation facilitated a shift in historiography in the mainstream of the historical profession, which would begin to adopt this perspective only in the late 1950s. Among the pathbreaking articles published in the journal were those of Herbert Aptheker, Melville Herskovits, Arthur Link, Kenneth Stampp, and, most notably, Richard Hofstader, whose critique of historian U. B. Phillips appeared in 1944. Also notable was black historians' emphasis on black culture created during slavery. While recognizing the harshness of slavery, these scholars argued that blacks had enough autonomy to create distinctive institutions. They also took note of the African background and the influence of African culture on African-American culture.

Among the many black scholars who published in the Journal of Negro History in its early years were John Hope Franklin, Lorenzo Johnson Greene, Rayford Logan, Benjamin Quarles, Charles Wesley, and Eric Williams. Woodson also published more articles by and about women than any of the other major historical journals. He highlighted the publication of documentary source materials that he and his associates had uncovered while doing research; by 1925, at least one-quarter of the journal's space was devoted to the publication of transcripts of primary source materials, thereby encouraging their use by scholars who otherwise would not have known about them.

Without Woodson's efforts, contemporary scholars would have fewer resources for studying African-American history. Woodson retired as editor of the journal in 1950. He was succeeded by Rayford W. Logan (19501951), William M. Brewer (19511970), W. Augustus Low (19701974), Lorraine A. Williams (19751976), Alton Hornsby Jr. (19762003), and V. P. Franklin, who assumed the editorship in 2003. In 2001 the name of the journal was changed to the Journal of African American History.

See also Association for the Study of African American Life and History; Opportunity: Journal of Negro Life ; Woodson, Carter G.


Conyers, James L., Jr. Carter G. Woodson: A Historical Reader. New York: Garland Publishing, 1999.

Goggin, Jacqueline. Carter G. Woodson: A Life in Black History. Baton Rouge, La.: Louisiana State University Press, 1993.

Goggin, Jacqueline. "Countering White Racist Scholarship: Carter G. Woodson and the Journal of Negro History." Journal of Negro History 68 (1983): 355375.

jacqueline goggin (1996)
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Journal of African American History, The