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The Sociology of W.E.B. Du Bois as a Weapon of Racial Equality: Pioneering Scientific Social Research at Historically Black Colleges and Universities

Aldon Morris
p. 11-24


W.E.B. Du Bois was a pivotal scholar of the 20th century who had a sustained global impact on sociological, literary, and political knowledge. Although he produced groundbreaking sociological scholarship in a historically black school – Atlanta University, his work was marginalized and erased due to racism and the radicalness of his scholarship. This article demonstrates that Du Bois was a founder of scientific sociology in the United States who developed a pioneering and distinct Atlanta School of sociology. This article advances two theses: Du Bois developed an emancipatory school of sociology that theorized and empirically documented the causes of racial and social inequality and that the Atlanta School gave rise to pioneering scientific social research at historically Black colleges and universities that served as intellectual weapons in the struggle for racial equality.

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1Before assessing the insurgent challenge of Du Boisian sociology, I outline some early postulates of white American sociology that remained dominant for a century. Later, I contrast those postulates with those derived from a Du Boisian sociology to reveal how the two sociologies differ in fundamental ways. First a caveat. My analysis utilizes broad conceptual categories such as “White Sociology” and “Black Sociology” and formulates broad general arguments. These categories and formulations represent ideal types that capture central tendencies. Indeed, there existed important differences within “White” and “Black” sociologies in terms of analytic and political stances. Nevertheless, the central tendencies within these two approaches cohere in clearly identifiable ways.

2A number of foundational postulates anchored pioneering white American sociology.

3The first postulate maintained that systems of human domination – class, race, empire and presumably gender – arose through natural, even cosmic forces that sustained them.

4Second, people of color globally and African Americans in particular, were inferior to western whites. In this view, the global system of racial stratification sprung from the biological and cultural inferiority of people of color.

5Third, white supremacy was postulated to be a phenomenon that was natural and inevitable. Hence, black people could not alter or overthrow white domination. Indeed, in this formulation black inferiority erased any possibility that people of color could exercise meaningful agency capable of transforming racial inequality.

6Fourth, white sociologists postulated that human agency was an attribute exclusive to dominant whites. Thus, only actions and decisions by whites could decrease racial inequality.

7Fifth, white sociology failed to analyze crucial aspects of the self because it assumed a universal social psychology unmediated by a person’s position within the social system and power relations during human interaction.

8Hence, there arose the conceptualization of the race problem as the white man’s burden; whites alone determined the fates of people of color throughout their Diasporas. These postulates emerged through armchair theorizing rather than empirical data, leading the black sociologist W.E.B. Du Bois to declare them as abstract ramblings of a “car window” sociology (Du Bois, 1903).

9These postulates generated several major claims. For white sociologists, the rise of the modern world characterized by the industrial revolution and capitalism was explainable by these foundational postulates. In this theoretical context, social Darwinism deeply influenced dominant white sociology. It was a sociology that advanced intellectual justifications for America’s system of oppressive racial apartheid and European empires that colonized and exploited people of color worldwide. As a result, intense racism, and the sociological consensus that Black people were biologically inferior, were mutually reinforcing.

10White sociologists who made this brand of sociology dominant worked in elite white northern universities. Among these institutions were the Universities of Chicago and Pennsylvania, Yale, Columbia and John Hopkins. These professors were predominantly upwardly mobile middle-class white males who identified with white elites and shared their values, which upheld the racial, class and gender status quo. These white elite professors were not aiming to topple inequality or even ruffle feathers of the social order (Deegan, 1988).

11America’s leading capitalists and philanthropists funded elite white universities. They provided lucrative funds for professor salaries, honorific prizes, released time from teaching, research funds, and graduate student funding. These captains of industry and philanthropy were interested in a sociology framed as objective even though it rationalized class and racial inequalities (Morris, 2015). Indeed, they were interested in theories valorizing capitalism as a superior social order justifying rampant social inequalities as natural and inevitable.

12These societal elites were uninterested in promoting universities and professors who attacked capitalism as a greedy human enterprise bent on exploiting others for profits. They were not interested in research demonstrating that race, class, and gender inequalities generated horrible and unnecessary human suffering. They abhorred research advocating working class solidarity and labor unions. To the contrary, these elites directed funds to those universities that promoted elite white interests.

13Moreover, the interests of capitalists and white male professors converged. The latter were interested in joining, or at least co-existing comfortably, with white elites. Thus, institutionally and intellectually, white professors fell in line with capitalists’ interests in exchange for attractive professorships. Their sociology was a top down enterprise in the service of rulers (Go, 2016).

1. Du Bois: Insurgent Pioneering Sociology

14Coterminous with pioneering elite white sociology, the foundations of an insurgent black sociology took root, developed by the black sociologist, W.E.B. Du Bois and his collaborators. In contrast to conservative white sociology, Du Bois developed an emancipatory, scientific, sociology from the perspective of ex-slaves, victims of Jim Crow racism, the colonized, and women. Du Bois’ sociology examined the unequal power relations between the oppressed and the white dominators who erected and solidified white supremacy. From this vantage, Du Bois’ founding postulates differed radically from those of the white pioneers.

15First, Du Bois’ sociology postulated that modernity was a product of the African slave trade, centuries of slavery, and colonialism. These oppressive systems generated exploitable labor forces and raw materials, enabling western elites to build capitalist empires. Therefore, powerful elites, for the deliberate purpose of exploitation, constructed these systems of oppression. Like his contemporaries Emile Durkheim and Max Weber, and his predecessor Karl Marx, Du Bois was an analyst of modernity. However, Du Bois alone theorized the relationship among racism, colonialism, slavery, western empire building, and capitalist development, made possible by human exploitation.

16Recent research (Robinson, 2000; Bhambra, 2007; Go, 2016; McAuley 2019; Douglas, 2019; Itzigsohn and Brown, 2020) has shown that classic sociological accounts of modernity have either ignored the role slavery and colonialism played in the development of capitalism or marginalized them as non-causal. Durkheim and Weber fall in the first camp while Marx the latter. For example, while Weber ignored slavery and capitalism as a central factor in capitalism, he advocated that Germany colonize parts of Africa to shore up Germany as a European empire (McAuley, 2019, 113). Weber wrote:

In general and at all times, imperialist capitalism, especially colonial booty capitalism based on direct force and compulsory labor, has offered by far the greatest opportunities for profit. They have been greater by far than those normally open to industrial enterprises which worked for exports and which oriented themselves to peaceful trade with members of other polities (Weber, 1978, 918).

17Despite this understanding of the relationship between colonialism and capitalism for nationalist purposes, Weber found no causal space for it in his explanation for capitalism, choosing instead to assert the spirit of the Protestant ethnic as the sole cause of capitalism.

18Marx recognized the historical entanglements of capitalism, slavery, and colonialism. Yet, for Marx, slavery and colonialism served only as historical precursors to the rise of capitalism because they constituted the pre-capitalist phase of modernity. Thus, slavery and colonialism set the stage for capitalism while the rise of free proletarian labor constituted the main causal engine propelling capitalist modernity (Marx and Engels, 1967).

19Second, Du Bois parted ways with white sociology’s claim that global racial inequality emerged from natural, biological and cosmic causes. Rather, Du Bois interrogated global color lines and their production of worldwide race stratification, which led him to conclude that dominant whites constructed racial stratification to ensure global white supremacy. Du Bois, thus, famously predicted that the color line demarcating racial stratification would be “The problem of the twentieth century.” That color line, he argued, structured the relation of the darker to the lighter races of men in Asia and Africa, in the Americas and the islands of the sea (Du Bois, 1903). Therefore, from a Du Boisian perspective, the theorization of racial dynamics had to be front and center of a successful causal analysis of modernity.

20Third, Du Bois’ theory of the human self diverged theoretically from those theories of the self formulated by white sociologists, including Charles Cooley (1902) and Herbert Mead (1934). Cooley and Mead emphasized that the self emerged through communication and social interactions. However, these mechanisms were theorized as benign processes engendering self-formation. Du Bois’ concept of “double consciousness” also stressed that the self emerged through social interactions and communication. Yet, as Itzigsohn and Brown (2015) demonstrated, Du Bois’ formulation of the self preceded and transcended Cooley and Mead’s by highlighting the role racial dynamics and power relations played in shaping the self. From this perspective, selves differed across multiple social formations because of varying levels of power and historical circumstances that shaped them.

21Fourth, in works, including Black Reconstruction (1935) and Damnation of Women (1920a), Du Bois broke new ground by analyzing class, race, and gender interactions (Morris, 2015). Thus, along with Anna Julia Cooper (1892) and Ida B. Wells (1895), Du Bois prefigured intersectionality and critical race paradigms. In contrast, white sociology ignored how systems of domination interlocked, reproducing social inequality. In contrast, Du Bois focused on how race divided the black and white working classes because of the machination of the white aristocracy. Du Bois identifying similar ideologies used to oppress both blacks and women wrote that, «The statement that woman is weaker than man is sheer rot: It is the same sort of thing that we hear about “darker races” and “lower classes”. Difference, either physical or spiritual, does not argue weakness or inferiority» (Du Bois, 1915, 29).

22Fifth, Du Bois constructed a bottom-ups sociology that interrogated the social world from the perspective of the oppressed. He anchored his analysis in the perspectives of the oppressed. Connecting his lived experiences and social analyses, Du Bois opened his Souls of Black Folk, by asserting his standpoint as critical component of his analysis: «I who speak here am bone of the bone and flesh of the flesh of them that live within the Veil?» (1903, 1). Thus, Du Bois’ sociology of African Americans posed a profound question: How does it feel to be a problem?

23Utilizing this perspective, Du Bois analyzed the lived experiences of African Americans, documented and theorized the specific elements in self-formation, and documented the paths to their cultural creativity and organizational strengths that enabled them to organize movements that would liberate themselves. More specifically, Du Bois’ emancipatory sociology of African Americans demonstrated:

  • that African Americans were equals to all designated races because racial oppression, not biological traits, relegated them to the bottom of the racial hierarchy. In this vein, Du Bois advanced a social constructionist view of race. For him, «This group [Blacks] was not simply a physical entity: a black people, descended from black folk. It was, what all races really are, a cultural group» (Du Bois, 1948).
  • that there was no such thing as “black crime” because social conditions, and not racial traits, produced crime. So-called “black crime” sprung from wrong social conditions (Du Bois, 1904).
  • that the black community usually portrayed by white sociologists as a homogeneous mass, was heterogeneous, consisting of various social classes and diverse experiences Du Bois (1899).
  • that the black church was the central cultural and organizational institution of the black community (Du Bois, 1899). Remarkably, long before the initiation of the modern Civil Rights movement, Du Bois predicted in his 1903 book, Souls of Black Folk that such a movement, based in the church, would rise to overthrow racial inequality: «Someday the Awakening will come, when the pent-up vigor of ten million souls shall sweep irresistibly toward the Goal, out of the Valley of the Shadow of Death, where all that makes life worth living – Liberty, Justice, and Right – is marked “For White People Only”» (ivi, 206).

24Thus, Du Bois differed from white sociologists who – even on the eve of the Civil Rights movement after fifty years of “race relations” scholarship – had no idea it was coming; indeed, white sociologists clung to the belief that such a black movement was an impossibility because they thought racial change only ensued from white agency.

25By turning the analytic lens on subaltern populations, Du Bois emerged as the first American sociologist to articulate the agency of the oppressed. Additionally, Du Bois moved easily from the standpoint of the oppressed to that of the oppressor: «High in the tower, where I sit […], I know many souls that toss and whirl and pass, but none […] intrigue me more than the Souls of White Folk. Of them, I am singularly clairvoyant. I see in and through them. I view them from unusual points of vantage. […] I see these souls undressed and from the back and side» (Du Bois, 1920b, 29). Like C. Wright Mills decades later, Du Bois advocated a sociology that synthesized various vantages points to comprehend social reality.

26By so doing, Du Bois created a scientifically rigorous and emancipatory sociology. It was scientifically rigorous because, in contrast to dominant white sociology, Du Bois pioneered multi-methods relying on both quantitative and qualitative methods to provide empirical evidence for his analyses. Indeed, two decades before the Chicago School conducted empirical studies, Du Bois’ Atlanta School executed numerous empirical studies analyzing rural and urban populations.

27Finally, Du Bois rejected the claim that sociology should be an aloof, detached, science operating above social and political realities. Simultaneously, Du Bois insisted that sociology embrace objectivity in its search for the truth. Nevertheless, for Du Bois, the purpose of those truths was to provide scientific guidance for redressing inequality and oppression and particularly for movements of liberation. In his struggles for black liberation, Du Bois made clear, «history and the other social sciences were to be my weapons, to be sharpened and applied by research and writing» (Du Bois, 1944, 34). Indeed, Du Bois utilized sociological knowledge to engage numerous political struggles to free humanity. Martin Luther King, Jr. pointed to the embeddedness of scientific sociology and liberationist activism as the central virtue in Du Bois’ life: «It was never possible to know where the scholar, Du Bois, ended and the organizer, Du Bois began. The two qualities in him were a single, unified force» (King, 1968). For Du Bois, a dispassionate, aloof, sociology was a dry as dust enterprise steeped in scientific and political irrelevances.

2. Black Sociologists and HBCUs

28Given its theoretical and empirical power, Du Bois’ intellectual agenda would become the touchstone of an insurgent black sociology embraced by pioneering black sociologists housed in black colleges and universities. The lived experiences of pioneering Black sociologists differed radically from white sociologists. They were members of a despised race who encountered economic exploitation, political disenfranchisement, racial segregation, lynching and daily insults. As Du Bois powerfully informed, «I recognize it quite easily and with full legal sanction: the black man is a person who must ride “Jim Crow” in Georgia» (Du Bois, 1923, 60).

29The college experience disempowered the personhood of black sociologists. Du Bois recalled, «When I entered college in 1885, I was supposed to learn there was a new reason for the degradation of the coloured people that was because they had inferior brains to whites». Unlike the (at first, small cohort of) upwardly mobile white sociologists who rose from humble beginnings eager to join ranks with white elites, black sociologists were compelled to initiate struggles for survival and devise strategies to protect their intellectual integrity. Thus, when Du Bois encountered doctrines of black inferiority in college, he responded, «This I immediately challenged. I knew by experience that my own brains and body were not inferior to the average of my white fellow students […] I early, therefore, started on a personal life crusade to prove Negro equality and to induce Negroes to demand it» (Du Bois, 1958).

30For black sociologists, an embrace of the white academy and its ideas translated into personal and race suicide. Their rational choice was to develop a critical approach to white academia and its racial science. They desperately needed a sociology that critically dissected systems of domination, especially race oppression, including the education system itself. They sought a new sociology that functioned as a liberating weapon and that imagined a strategy for building societies free of racial oppression and composed of egalitarian social structures. As Andrew Douglas (2019) has argued, black scholars needed HBCUs that served as a locus of critique and developed transcendent messages opposed to white supremacy.

31The white academy cooperated in the black sociologist’s quest for a critical sociology by sorting them into academic institutions segregated by race. As Francille Wilson argued (2006), black sociologists became the segregated scholars. For his or her undergraduate education, almost all black sociologists attended historically black colleges located in the south. Thus, Ida B. Wells, Anna Julia Cooper, Du Bois, Richard R. Wright, Jr., Edmund Haynes, E. Franklin Frazier, Charles Johnson and Saint Clare Drake attended southern HBCUs. If it were not for the existence of HBCUs including Fisk, Atlanta University, Howard, Hampton, Tuskegee, Spelman, Tugaloo, Savanna State, Virginia Union, Saint Augustine, and Morehouse, odds are there would have been no pioneering black sociologists.

32HBCUs, relative to white colleges, were severely disadvantaged (Jones, 1974; Morris, 2015). Like the students who attended them, the larger society considered HBCUs inferior and treated them as such. Because of racially restricted funds from state legislatures and disinterest of philanthropists, black professors were perennial victims of low pay and overwork (Anderson, 1988). Crucial facilities including libraries and labs suffered thanks to limited resources. Moreover, white elites especially those in the south, monitored HBCUs curricula, making sure those ideas perceived as subversive for descendants of ex-slaves were expunged. Instead, they championed industrial education promoted by the powerful black leader, Booker T. Washington. Indeed, the epic ideological debate and controversy between Washington and Du Bois ensued over this very issue. Du Bois argued that black people, especially its emerging leaders, needed to be trained in liberal arts institutions of higher learning so they could obtain a broad education conducive to producing a talented tenth leadership (Du Bois, 1903; Lewis, 1993 and 2000). In this view, Du Bois parted ways with Washington who believed ex-slaves needed an industrial education so they could become economically independent and relevant to a southern agricultural economy. From the southern white aristocracy point of view, close monitoring was required in both liberal arts and industrial schools to prevent the production of militant Negroes insisting on racial equality. Such close monitoring succeeded because racially conservative white HBCU presidents and administrators controlled most HBCUs well into the twentieth century. This white control led to black student revolts that sought academic freedom, self-determination, adequate funding, and the overthrow of white leaders (Rogers, 2012).

33HBCUs suffered double jeopardy because their racial and regional statuses relegated them to the academic periphery outside the purview and interest of prestigious rich white universities of the north. Because of their position in the academic hinterlands, black scholars and their intellectual contributions, suffered marginalization and even erasure (Morris, 2015). White mainstream sociology proceeded as if they were the only viable intellectual game. As far as they were concerned, Black scholars produced no ideas and intellectual agendas, which white scholars were bound to respect. As a result, white scholars rarely cited black scholars and their works were seldom rewarded by external recognition.

34Yet, despite these daunting challenges, HBCUs educated the first generations of black sociologists, thanks to dedicated black and white teachers who embraced their educational mission as a sacred trust. They labored in the classroom to provide knowledge that would lift the descendants of ex-slaves out of ignorance and poverty. Black college students were crucial in this educational liberation project for they possessed a dogged determination to attain education as attested by one enrollee who declared, “tell the white people we are rising”!

35HBCUs prepared the first generations of black sociologists to matriculate in white graduate departments and earn doctorates enabling them to become professional sociologists. Though white departments insulted black sociologists with their theories of black inferiority and the righteousness of racial inequality, HBCUs had prepared them to persevere while keeping their eyes on the prize by earning advanced degrees necessary for those who would challenge white sociology.

36With degrees in hand, black sociologists settled in segregated academic positions as professional sociologists (Wilson, 2006). Even though the current American Sociological Association honors four great black pioneering sociologists – Du Bois, Frazier, Oliver Cox and Charles Johnson – white sociologists know little of the institutions in which they worked and the unique challenges they faced in those settings. HBCUs were crucial to the development of black sociology because all pioneering black sociologists shared the experience of never holding professorships in white universities because white supremacy prevented such outcomes. Thus, for at least the first half of the twentieth century, black sociologists spent their entire careers in economically poor, isolated and grossly underfunded HBCUs.

37Du Bois’ account of black sociologists’ careers in HBCUs is instructive given that his professorships were limited to Wilberforce and Atlanta University. He writes:

if young colored men receive scientific training almost their only opening lies in the Negro university of the South […] the difficulty here, […] is that very few of these institutions have the facilities for research, nor can they grant teachers the time to devote to it. The young scientist who goes to such an institution is usually given a heavy load of teaching covering several branches of scientific work. If he can find any time for research he not only has few facilities at his disposal at the institution, but he has a body of college students handicapped by restricted high school and elementary school training. Few of them have seen laboratories before coming to college or have been used to rigorous scientific methods […].
Not only does the young Negro scientist find difficulty in pursuing scientific research in a Negro institution. He lives usually in an intellectual desert so far as the surrounding world is concerned. State libraries will lend books to colored students but usually the reader must be segregated in separate and often inconvenient rooms. [Black scholars are] placed in rooms by themselves […] In general the libraries, museums, laboratories and scientific collections in the South are either completely closed to Negro investigators or are only partially opened and on humiliating terms (Du Bois, 1939, 316-317).

38The experience of the great black historian John Hope Franklin confirms Du Bois’ account of humiliation. In 1939, Franklin conducted research on his Harvard’s University dissertation. Much of that research took place in the North Carolina State Archives. Because of Franklin’s race, a small segregated reading room was created for him to ensure his separation from white researchers. He received keys to the archives to prevent white research assistants from having to come into close with him by bringing documents to his desk (Franklin, 2005). This future towering giant of American history had to swallow his pride and persevere because he understood that the work before him was more important than his individual pain.

39Du Bois complained about how the severe lack of resources handicapped his research and writing. He explained, «In the matter of scholarships and prizes difficulties are often raised in the case of colored candidates. It is practically impossible for the Negro in the South even to enter […] scholarships examinations» (Du Bois, 1939). Thus, we see that racial discrimination directed at HBCUs caused black sociologists to face staggering odds in their mission to produce an emancipatory sociology.

40In 1898, Du Bois argued that a center of sociological research was desperately needed to study and provide solutions for what was then called The Negro Problem. He understood that HBCUs must play a major role in such intellectual endeavors. Yet he cautioned:

We hear much of higher Negro education, and yet all candid people know there does not exist today in the centre of Negro population a single first-class fully equipped institution devoted to the higher education of Negroes; not more than three Negro institutions in the South deserve the name of college at all (Du Bois, 1898, 22).

41In light of this daunting challenge, Du Bois issued a plea to rich northern white universities to join with an HBCU to develop an excellent center of sociological research to study black folk and the surrounding society. He concluded, «Without doubt the first effective step toward the solving of the Negro question will be the endowment of a Negro College which is not merely a teaching body, but a centre of sociological research, in close connection and co-operation with Harvard, Columbia, Johns Hopkins and the University of Pennsylvania» (Du Bois, 1898, 22). However, these Northern universities had no interest in Du Bois’ proposal. They ignored his proposal.

3. Incomparable Scholarship from the Periphery

42Yet, the wonder of it all is that Black sociologists triumphed against these staggering odds, building major sociology programs, including the two truly outstanding departments at Fisk and Howard Universities. In these HBCUs black sociologists produced rigorous empirical research and theoretically sophisticated sociology that countered the racist narratives dominant in the white mainstream (Wright, 2020). They also prepared the succeeding generations of black sociologists to attend and succeed in white graduate schools. The discipline of sociology would be very different if HBCUs had not produced black scholars who injected critical perspectives into the white mainstream sociology, which remained beholden to white supremacy and elite interests throughout the first half of the twentieth century.

43Thus, during the first years of American sociology, led by Du Bois, pioneering black sociologists constructed an emancipatory scientific sociology that produced sociological scholarship useful to those fighting for freedom. That sociology placed at its center the examination of systems of human domination, the social structures and processes inhibiting human freedom, the empowering agency of the oppressed anchored in their culture and institutions, the sociological wisdom that exploitative hierarchies are edifices constructed by real human beings an thus can be torn asunder by human agency. The hallmark of insurgent black sociology was its recognition that scientific scholarship stemmed from systematic study and rigorous reasoning. To be sure, rigorous scientific based scholarship was axiomatic if it were to inform liberation struggles given the high stakes involved.

44Because of personal and collective racial oppression, pioneering black sociologists did not have the luxury of pretending to produce dispassionate objective science. Often, they conducted research in hostile environments including riots and lynching. They had to worry if their sociology spoke truth to oppression, they could pay steep professional prices and even great bodily harm. Thus, while working as a professor at Atlanta University in 1927, E. Franklin Frazier published an article, The Pathology of Race Prejudice (Frazier, 1927) accusing racist whites of suffering from pathology because of their irrational racist hatred of black folk. Although the article was written in the detached and “objective” voice that white sociologists insisted upon, they denounced Frazier as overly passionate and out of control. Once whites got wind of Frazier’s argument, a lynch mob began to form, causing Franklin to flee Atlanta just ahead of it. Racial oppression led black sociologists to develop a relevant politically engaged sociology that addressed pressing issues of the era. Therefore, in contrast to white “value free” sociology, black sociologists countered with an activist emancipatory sociology signaling a distinct direction for the young discipline.

45One virtue of the segregated academy is that it positioned talented black scholars in tight safe places where intense debates and discussions stimulated the sociological imagination. This is precisely what transpired at Howard University in the 1930s when E. Franklin Frazier, Ralph Bunche, Abram Harris, Alain Locke, and Kathrine Tate produced the first school of International Relations as they clustered as colleagues (Vitalis, 2015). Oppression led many black students and community leaders to participate in this ferment while providing HBCUs with volunteer intellectual labor based on a liberation capital that promised that the production of knowledge would be critical in their eventual liberation (Morris, 2015). These fertile grounds gave rise to an insurgent sociology informed by the lived experiences of scholars racially segregated in the academy and American society writ large. Out of this segregation developed unique and distinct critical perspective that continue to challenge the anemic mainstream (Saint-Arnaud, 2003; Vitalis, 2015; Wright, 2020).

4. Conclusions

46Theories of sociology and the social sciences often fail to investigate the durable linkages between the production of scholarship and the institutional foundations enabling its production. Surely, the availability of resources – money, prestige, well trained intellectual labor, outside legitimation, honorific prizes – play crucial roles in the potential quality, quantity, and dissemination of scholarship. One can only speculate about the increased quality and influence of the scholarship produced by pioneering black sociologists if the HBCUs had access to a substantial proportion of the resources conferred upon elite white universities.

47Nevertheless, despite overwhelming odds, pioneering black sociologists armed with a scientific desire to be free and who were housed in generative HBCUs, constructed an invaluable insurgent sociology. Much of it, though unacknowledged in the core (white) journals and the (white) sociology curricula for at least the first half of the twentieth century, has belatedly been acknowledged and partially incorporated into mainstream sociology, offering an important and enriching corrective to decades of research deprived of these contributions.

48At the same time, it is important to sound an alarm about the current state of HBCUs and especially about their capacity to continue to produce original knowledge that challenges and reinvigorates sociology. The reality today is that most HBCUs are suffering from extreme financial difficulties in the age of neo-liberal education, and consequently suffering accreditation challenges, declining enrollments and crippling scandals. Moreover, the modest racial integration of faculties in predominantly white educational institutions has robbed HBCUs of crucial intellectual power that filled faculty positions during the decades of Jim Crowed HBCUs. The future of HBCUs appears bleak if black and white communities fail to come to their rescue.

49Nevertheless, if an innovative insurgent scientific sociology could take root in the worst of times, amid terrorism of lynch mobs, attacks from elites within the community it sought to liberate, and discrimination from a racist society that withheld crucial resources, then maybe there is hope for all who work to produce knowledge for the purpose of understanding and transforming humanity (Morris, 2015).

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Notizia bibliografica

Aldon Morris, «The Sociology of W.E.B. Du Bois as a Weapon of Racial Equality: Pioneering Scientific Social Research at Historically Black Colleges and Universities»Quaderni di Sociologia, 83- LXIV | 2020, 11-24.

Notizia bibliografica digitale

Aldon Morris, «The Sociology of W.E.B. Du Bois as a Weapon of Racial Equality: Pioneering Scientific Social Research at Historically Black Colleges and Universities»Quaderni di Sociologia [Online], 83- LXIV | 2020, online dal 01 avril 2021, consultato il 18 mai 2021. URL:; DOI:

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Aldon Morris

Department of Sociology – Northwestern University

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