On December 2, 1891, Charles Harris Wesley was born to Charles Snowden and Mathilda Harris Wesley in Louisville, Kentucky. An exceptionally bright and industrious young man, he excelled in learning, to the extent that, in 1911, he graduated from Fisk University, a historically Black university, at the age of nineteen.
Upon graduating, he won a fellowship to study at Yale University. During this time, he worked as a server to supplement his academic pursuits. In 1913, Wesley earned a Master of Arts degree in history and was hired to instruct history and modern language as a member of the faculty at Howard University, another historically Black university, located in Washington, D.C. Wesley would serve on the faculty of Howard University from 1913 to 1942. His service at this institution of higher learning included acting as Dean of the College of Liberal Arts, 1937-38, and of the Graduate School from 1938-1942.
While at Howard University, two life-changing events occurred for Charles H. Wesley. In 1915, Wesley would marry Louise Johnson; they had one child, a daughter, Louise. Wesley also became great friends with Carter G. Woodson, who was the second African-American (after W.E.B. DuBois) to earn his doctorate from Harvard University. Woodson was the founder of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH; it is presently known as the Association for the Study of African-American Life – ASALH). Woodson’s organization was the largest, national organization of historians, educators, scholars and culture commentators on African-America.
Wesley began to collaborate with Carter G. Woodson, who was also the editor of the ASNLH publication, the Journal of Negro History, from 1916 to 1950. Woodson’s passion for Black history prompted him to strongly encourage Wesley to pursue a specialization in Black history. Wesley would heed Woodson’s advice and in 1920, was awarded a fellowship from Harvard University to further his academic studies. In 1925, Charles H. Wesley earned his PhD, becoming the third African-American to be awarded their doctorate degree from Harvard University.