CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Norman Jordan is an interesting fellow in his own right, as an acclaimed historian and West Virginia's most published black poet. Indeed, the enthusiasm he feels for history, poetry and theater radiates from him.
And yet, he prefers to talk not about himself but about another West Virginian, one he wants the world to remember: Dr. Carter G. Woodson, the Father of Black History.
"So few people know about Dr. Woodson," he said in a recent interview. "Yet all across the country, children celebrate Black History Month."
Woodson established Negro History Week in 1926, which became Black History Month in 1976. He chose February for the initial weeklong celebration to honor the birth months of abolitionist Frederick Douglass and President Abraham Lincoln.
Jordan has portrayed Woodson nearly 500 times in the West Virginia Humanities Council's History Alive! program and other venues.
It is a labor of love, he says, because Woodson "has had a huge impact, and he was the pioneer of African-American history."
Carter Woodson was born on Dec. 19, 1875, in Buckingham County, Va., to parents who were former slaves, according to the West Virginia Encyclopedia.
He spent his early life in Virginia but lived his formative years in West Virginia. The family moved permanently to Huntington in 1893 after Carter and his brother, Robert, came here to work in the coal mines.
He attended Douglass High School in Huntington, graduating in 1896. He studied at Berea College, took a teaching assignment in the Philippines, traveled around the world, studied at the Sorbonne, and returned to continue his education at the University of Chicago, where he earned bachelor's and master's degrees, and went on to receive a doctorate from Harvard University in 1912 -- becoming the second African-American to earn a Ph.D. from the prestigious institution.
After finishing his education, Woodson dedicated himself to the field of black history, working to make sure the subject was taught in schools and studied by scholars. Woodson died in Washington on April 3, 1950.
"Dr. Woodson is of interest to us as a distinguished West Virginian and as the father of Black History Month," said Ken Sullivan, executive director of the West Virginia Humanities Council.
The History Alive! program brings historical characters to life through portrayals by presenters -- like Norman Jordan -- who have conducted scholarly research on their subjects. Rather than one-person plays or monologues, the presenters engage audiences in a dialogue with their character.
"We think a lot of Norm's work. He has portrayed Dr. Carter G. Woodson for a number of years. ... We are impressed with the work he does," said Sullivan, who said Jordan has also portrayed Booker T. Washington, another famous black American with West Virginia roots, for the program.
Now, as the council rotates its offering of historic figures, Jordan is bringing his favorite character to life for new audiences.
On Feb. 1, Jordan was scheduled to star in "Carter G. Woodson Remembered" at Hawks Nest State Park in Ansted, presenting the story of Woodson's young adult years in West Virginia as a railroad worker, coal miner, teacher, principal and professor.
Ansted is where Jordan makes his home now, and where he has established the African American Heritage Family Tree Museum.
"I live about six miles from where Carter Woodson worked, in Nuttallburg and Winona. Dr. Woodson was a railroad worker at Thurmond, a coal miner at Nuttallburg and a schoolteacher in Winona from 1892 to 1900," Jordan said.
"The museum is a house museum here in Ansted, where we collect African-American history -- mostly from West Virginia," he added.