Black History's Family Tree : Code Switch Brett Woodson Bailey grew up knowing he was the descendant of "the father of Black history," Carter G. Woodson. He also grew up with the support and guidance of his "cousin" Craig Woodson, who is white. In this week's Code Switch, what it means when a Black family and a white family share a last name, and how the Black and white Woodsons became family.

Black History's Family Tree

Black History's Family Tree

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Black history then, and now (left) Carter G. Woodson and his great, great grand nephew, Brett Woodson Bailey. NPR hide caption

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Black history then, and now (left) Carter G. Woodson and his great, great grand nephew, Brett Woodson Bailey.

NPR

Black History Month started as Negro History Week in 1926 by Carter G. Woodson. Today, his great great grand nephew, Brett, is a college student at UC Santa Cruz, and he's learning what it means to live with his ancestor's legacy in today's world. He receives support from an unlikely family member, "Cousin Craig."

Decades before Brett was born, Craig Woodson was a white boy, growing up with stories about his own family's history–that they were pioneers, some of the first European settlers in America. It wasn't until Craig was in his forties when that myth was broken. He bought a postage stamp with Carter G. Woodson's face on it. Puzzled by the fact that he shared a last name with this Black historical figure, he dug into his family's real history, and he was shocked at what was hiding in plain sight.

For almost forty years, Craig Woodson has fought to shed light on the true history of his family–that they were some of the first enslavers in America, and that they enslaved the family of Carter G. Woodson. Now, he's tending to the wounds of the past. Strangely, he has formed a bond with the Black Woodsons, the living relatives of Carter G. Woodson, and he shows up for Brett as much as he can.