November-December 2009 Issue • Volume 37 • Issue 8

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The Significance of the
Cox-Johnson-Frazier Award

This is the last in a series of three articles
about ASA’s named awards

by Earl Wright II, Texas Southern University, and Jean Shin,
ASA Minority Affairs Program

In 1971 the American Sociological Association (ASA) established the Du Bois-Johnson-Frazier Award (later renamed as Cox-Johnson-Frazier Award) as a major Association award. Honoring the intellectual traditions and contributions of the early Black sociologists W.E.B. DuBois, Charles S. Johnson, and E. Franklin Frazier, this award recognizes individual sociologists, departments, or academic institutions for scholarly activities that reflect the efforts of the men for whom the award was named.

This award was made possible through the efforts of members of the ASA Caucus of Black Sociologists (CBS) (which later became the independent Association of Black Sociologists [ABS]). The CBS was established in 1968 as an ad hoc advocacy group for Black sociologists. Under the leadership of Tillman C. Cothran, Black sociologists were called together to "discuss their common problems and strategies for dealing with the same" (Conyers 1992). At the 1968 ASA Annual Meeting, the CBS drafted a six-part resolution to be presented to the elected ASA Council. It made recommendations on how the ASA could become a more inclusive professional organization by providing Black sociologists with "the expected benefits of membership in a professional organization; representation on the Council and all committees and representation as chairpersons of sections, as program participants, and as referees for the profession’s major publications" (Blackwell 1992). When the CBS’s resolution received a lukewarm reception by ASA leaders "tensions mounted and the demand for inclusion (sic) escalated." These tensions resulted in a second set of resolutions to the ASA Council sponsored by the CBS in 1969.

According to James E. Blackwell (2008), the first chairperson of the now-formalized CBS in 1970, the Du Bois-Johnson-Frazier Award was born out of a resolution brought forth by Black sociologists at the contentious 1970 Annual Meeting in Washington, DC. Blackwell said, "Those who presented the [CBS] resolutions were labeled [in highly charged pejorative terms] as ‘careerists,’ and ‘militants.’ In fact, a few prominent sociologists either resigned or threatened to resign from ASA membership because of the positive responses to most of the resolutions." Blackwell credits then-ASA President William H. Sewell with using "his leadership skills to persuade the Council to appoint a Liaison Committee to work with the Caucus of Black Sociologists in finding mutually acceptable forms of cooperation" (2008). Members of this Liaison Committee were then-ASA Vice President Morris Janowitz, S. Frank Miyamoto, Melvin Seeman, and Stanton Wheeler. The CBS was represented by Blackwell, James Y. Conyers, Charles U. Smith, Edgar Epps, William Julius Wilson, Jacqueline J. Jackson, and John Moland, Jr.

Meeting at the Washington, DC, home of Preston Valien in January 1971, the Liaison Committee made several recommendations to the ASA Council in response to the CBS’s second resolution that continue to have a tremendous impact on the association. The recommendations resulted in the establishment of: 1) the Du Bois-Johnson-Frazier Award; 2) the Committee on the Status of Racial and Ethnic Minorities in Sociology; 3) the position of ‘Executive Specialist’ for Minorities and Women (which later became the Director of the Minority Affairs Program); 4) the authorization for the Executive Officer of the Association (then N.J. Demerath) seek outside funds to support minority graduate students, which became the ASA Minority Fellowship Program in 1974; and 5) the allocation of resources to conduct research on the status of racial and ethnic minority faculty and students in the profession (Blackwell 1992).

This ASA award was originally named for three of the most prominent and influential early American sociologists. Du Bois, Johnson, and Frazier were contemporaries who worked in their respective lifetimes to broaden societal thinking and definitions of what was considered mainstream sociology. While Du Bois (1868-1963) took a doctorate in history from Harvard University, his academic career was spent largely as a professor of sociology at Atlanta University. Johnson and Frazier completed their doctoral work in sociology at the University of Chicago. Du Bois was a leader of the Atlanta Sociological Laboratory, established the first American school of sociology, and developed numerous methodological techniques now institutionalized in sociology (Wright 2002). Johnson (1893-1956) was professor of sociology at and later president of Fisk University in Tennessee, where he wrote a number of studies documenting how economic and social variables produced and influenced an oppressive racial hierarchy. Frazier (1894-1962) was a faculty member at Howard University for most of his career. He was the first African American president of the ASA and a founding member of the DC Sociological Society (DCSS). Much of his work focused on the black family as well as the development of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), particularly Howard University, and their influence.

The Name Change

In 2006, ASA membership voted to change the name of this major Association award to the Cox-Johnson-Frazier Award, honoring the work of Oliver Cromwell Cox, another contemporary and prominent sociologist. Cox (1901-1974), a long-time faculty member at Lincoln University in Missouri and the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, focused his influential research on the impact of capitalism on race relations and the contextualization of racism within the concept of class consciousness. Cox’s work influenced the study of racial discrimination for many decades. The change in the award name occurred in conjunction with the ASA membership’s vote to re-name the association’s award for a Career of Distinguished Scholarship in honor of DuBois. (See the February 2009 issue of Footnotes for a further discussion of the significance of this name change).

The award is given either to an individual sociologist for a lifetime of research, teaching, and service to the community or to an academic institution or department for its work in assisting the development of scholarly efforts in the tradition of these scholars. Because the commitment of a group of scholars to social justice through broadening that tradition to include empowering marginalized scholars and marginalized peoples can be so compelling, the parameters of the Cox-Johnson-Frazier Award provide for the recognition of such an outstanding communal institutional effort.

The significance of this ASA award extends beyond its list of distinguished recipients (including James E. Blackwell, Joseph S. Himes, Doris Wilkinson, John Moland, Jr., Joyce A. Ladner and the 2009 winner, Aldon Morris—who notably is the first former ASA Minority Fellowship Program Fellow to win the award). It is grounded in its direct link to a historical period where much of the major change in American society, the discipline of sociology, and the association was influenced by and reflected in the scholarly legacy of Oliver Cromwell Cox, Charles S. Johnson and E. Franklin Frazier. logo


Blackwell, James E. 2008. "The Founding of the Minority Fellowship Program: A Commitment to Opportunity and Diversity." Unpublished paper presented at the 2008 American Sociological Association Annual Meeting, Boston, MA.

_______________. 1992. "Minorities in the Liberation of ASA?" The American Sociologist 23(1):11-17.

Conyers, James E. 1992. "The Association of Black Sociologists: A Descriptive Account from an ‘Insider.’" The American Sociologist 23(1):49-55.

Wright II, Earl. 2002. "Using the Master’s Tools: The Atlanta Sociological Laboratory and American Sociology, 1896-1924." Sociological Spectrum 22(1):15-40.


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