Carter G. Woodson became known as the Father of Black History. But, there was someone before him that probably should have gotten the credit.
Daniel Alexander Payne Murray was a pioneer in the field of African-American history; a leader in the National Afro-American Council, the first national civil rights organization and forerunner of the NAACP; and a prominent member of Washington, D.C.,’s black elite.
In 1899, Librarian of Congress Herbert Putnam approved a request from the organizers of the upcoming Paris Exposition to provide a bibliography of works by African-Americans and put Murray to the task. Murray produced a preliminary list of black authors along with some of their books to be displayed in Paris. Once the exposition closed, he continued to grow his specialized bibliography. Within several months, his list had grown to eleven hundred titles. The Library of Congress’s “Colored Authors’ Collection” originated from his efforts. Now known as the “Daniel A. P. Murray Pamphlet Collection”, it contains works dating from 1821 by such authors as Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Benjamin W. Arnett, and Alexander Crummell.
He became the “go-to man” on all questions relating to black history as his reputation grew. No longer satisfied with bibliography and book collecting, Murray took on black history and biography. His goal eventually expanded to a monumental six-volume encyclopedia.
He was the first African-American member of the Washington Board of Trade, and he testified before the House of Representatives about Jim Crow laws and the migration of African-Americans from rural locations to urban areas. He was twice a delegate to the Republican National Convention and was a member of many other councils and organizations.
He was also a prolific author, and a frequent contributor to African American journals, in particular “The Voice of the Negro.” He was also well known for his writings on African American history, including his monumental but uncompleted Historical and Biographical Encyclopedia of the Colored Race.
Aware of Murray’s frail health, W.E.B. Du Bois pleaded with him to allow parts of his encyclopedia to be published in periodicals, but Murray refused to break up the six volumes. Murray died in 1925, never having found a publisher to underwrite his opus. It was Carter G. Woodson who would become known as the Father of Black History.
Murray’s personal library of African American works was bequeathed to the Library of Congress upon his death March 31, 1925.
Daniel Murray’s story is fascinating. You can read more about him in “The Original Black Elite: Daniel Murray and the Story of a Forgotten Era,” by Elizabeth Dowling Taylor and here: