July-August 2008 Issue • Volume 36 • Issue 6

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Howard University Celebrates 50 Years of Doctoral Education with Sociology Focus

E. Franklin Frazier legacy comes full circle

A lecture about sociologist E. Franklin Frazier
was the kick-off event in a year-long celebration
of Howard University’s 50 years of doctoral education.
Clockwise: ASA Executive Officer Sally T. Hillsman
(standing); COSSA Executive Director Howard Silver;
Howard University’s Florence Bonner;
featured lecturer and visiting professor Walter Allen;
incoming ASA President Patricia Hill Collins.

Noted sociologist E. Franklin Frazier was the focus of the opening event in a lecture series to celebrate the 50th anniversary of doctoral education at Howard University. Howard, a top national research institution and the nation’s leading on-campus producer of African American doctoral recipients, awarded its first doctoral degree in 1958 and this year graduated the largest PhD class in its history. The university began offering a doctoral program in sociology in 1974.

Walter Allen, Allen Murray Cartter Professor of Higher Education and Professor of Sociology at the University of California-Los Angeles, delivered the special lecture, titled "E. Franklin Frazier’s Influential Contributions to the Study of Race in American Life: Social Theory, Research, and Praxis."

Orlando Taylor, vice provost for research and graduate school dean at Howard, set the stage for Allen’s lecture by discussing the history of social sciences at Howard and his vision for the future.

Former ASA Secretary Florence Bonner, who was recently promoted from sociology department Chair to Associate Vice President for Research and Compliance at Howard, attended the event and introduced Allen, noting his many achievements in both sociology and education. Allen was recently named Social, Behavioral, and Economics Sciences Scholar in Residence at Howard. As Allen told his standing-room-only audience in Howard University’s Founders Library, he patterned his career after Frazier. Allen is a 2002 recipient of ASA’s DuBois-Johnson-Frazier Award.

E. Franklin Frazier, who died in 1962, was America’s leading scholar on the black family in the mid-20th century. He completed his undergraduate studies at Howard and returned to the university later in his career to serve as chair of Howard’s department of sociology.

As an introduction to Frazier’s contributions, Allen cited a bible verse from Hosea 4:6, "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge." It was a fitting citation, as Frazier had committed himself to black education and advancement and believed that, according to Allen, “knowledge was, and could represent, salvation for people in need of an uplift.” Frazier challenged the educational institution to educate black youth and disputed racist notions in the early 20th century. During his time as chair at Howard, Frazier published The Negro Family in the United States (1948) and Bourgeoisie Noire (1955, translated in 1957 as Black Bourgeoisie). Frazier’s first book brought the African American family into the mainstream of social sciences, while his second criticized the black middle class.

According to Allen, Frazier "challenged the black bourgeoisie to have esteem in black culture, institutions and black people." He felt that black elites should not be comfortable in privilege, and that they were obligated to lead the struggle for change. Frazier believed that sociological research should, and could, inform social change. Frazier did not limit his criticisms to the black middle class, however. According to Allen, Frazier was an "equal opportunity offender." He did not spare white America from his scathing critique, criticizing the blind pursuit of profit by American capitalism.

Frazier, who patterned his career after that of W. E. B. DuBois, was outward looking and international in focus, conducting cross-cultural and cross-national research. His academic scholarship propelled his rise within ASA. Frazier was elected the first black president of the association in 1948.

Despite his ASA presidency, Allen asserts that racism in the academic community impeded Frazier’s career, noting that he was never given full-fledged academic appointment at the University of Chicago.

According to Allen, Frazier’s legacy includes scholarship and policy contributions in the areas of race and culture, inequality, family, social class, and African diaspora studies. Today, more than 40 years after Frazier’s death, his legacy continues. At the time of Frazier’s election to the ASA presidency, the association was the first major scholarly association to have a person of color in its presidential position. This year, University of Maryland’s Patricia Hill Collins will assume the role, becoming ASA’s 100th president, and the association’s first black woman in this position. small_green


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