By Ellen McGirt
Updated: February 1, 2018 2:21 PM ET

Welcome to Black History Month.

It might be just me, but this year feels different somehow.

Maybe it’s the increasingly urgent discussions about diversity and reconciliation that are coming from the private sector. Maybe it’s the explosion of black creators making important art in music, film, and words. Or maybe it’s simply the survival high of having made it this far into an era that feels newly poised to raise old hostilities. White supremacists leafletting college campuses. The commander-in-chief calling a pregnant, black Gold Star widow a liar in a public feud. Innocent communities menaced by otherwise unremarkable men with Tiki Torches in their hands and ugly words in their mouths.

I’ve come to believe that an unexamined history is at the heart of America’s troubles, so this month feels like an important opportunity to think, share and amplify little-known stories that inform and uplift. (Let us know how we can help.)

I’ll let Google kick us off with this beautiful and well-researched tribute to Carter G. Woodson, the inspiration behind Black History Month.

The online exhibit, which can be launched from Google’s main page today, was written by former Smithsonian Fellow Kimberly D. Brown and designed by the Smithsonian’s Marc Bretzfelder. The Google Doodle accompanying the exhibit is by Virginia-based illustrator Shannon Wright and was created in collaboration with the Black Googlers Network.

Woodson was born to former slaves in 1875 and was the second African American to earn a doctorate from Harvard University. He died in 1950, having lived long enough to witness the wonders of air travel, the rise of the nuclear age, but not long enough to enjoy a full set of rights as a U.S. citizen.

“Woodson was committed to bringing African-American history front and center and ensuring it was taught in schools and studied by other scholars,” Sherice Torres, Director of Brand Marketing at Google and Black Googlers Network member said in a blog post about the main page tribute.

His work began with a challenge he didn’t need but was clearly prepared to meet. From the exhibit:

A Harvard graduate, Dr. Woodson produced his dissertation with university professors Edward Channing and Albert Bushnell Hart, as committee member and dissertation advisor respectively. The two plainly expressed their convictions about African Americans as inferior. Hart paternalistically encouraged education as a mechanism for improving what he believed was an innate intellectual inadequacy within African Americans. Channing bluntly argued that the Negro had no history and, according to Woodson, found laughable the idea of Crispus Attucks and his role in the Boston Massacre as an important contribution to the independence of the country. Channing challenged Woodson to undertake research that the Negro had a history.

And so he did.

Woodson created the first academic journal to debunk widespread racist scholarship and worked throughout his career to inject rigor and historical accuracy about the African American experience into the public record.

Torres goes on to say that Woodson’s experience was not unlike her own. “As a black woman from an underserved, underperforming public school in Richmond, California, many in my community didn’t expect me to achieve much beyond the four corners of my neighborhood,” she said. “When I voiced my ambition to go to Harvard, I was told by teachers, guidance counselors, and even some family members that ‘people like me’ didn’t go to schools like that.”

And so she did.

History is always a messy bit of business, written by the winners, sometimes re-written by the losers, and all too often, drowned out by the loudest voices in the room. But the truth is worth fighting for. And when it’s found, it shall surely set us all free.


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