Race, the History of Sociology, and the Marginalization of W.E.B. Du Bois: Lessons From Aldon Morris' Book, "The Scholar Denied"Julian Go I Society & Culture I Analysis I January 18th, 2016
If Aldon Morris in The Scholar Denied is right, then everything I learned as a sociology PhD student at the University of Chicago is wrong. Or at least everything that I learned about the history of sociology. At Chicago, my cohort and I were inculcated with the ideology and ideals of Chicago School. We were taught that American sociology originated with the Chicago School. We were taught that sociology as a scientific enterprise, rather than a philosophical one, began with Albion Small and his successors; that The Polish Peasant by W.I. Thomas and Florian Znaniecki was the first great piece of American sociological research; and that the systematic study of race relations and urban sociology originated with Robert E. Park and his students. We were taught that we should not only read the Chicago school but also venerate it, model our work after it, and pass its wisdom on through the generations. But The Scholar Denied shows that the Chicago school was not the founding school of sociology in the United States. Neither Small, Park, Thomas and Znaniecki nor their students originated scientific sociology. The real credit goes to W.E.B. Du Bois, whom leading representatives of the Chicago School like Robert E. Park marginalized - perhaps wittingly. Moreover, and perhaps more contentiously, The Scholar Denied suggests that Park plagiarized Du Bois, and that venerated sociologists like Max Weber were perhaps more influenced by Du Bois rather than the other way around.
The implications are far-reaching. If the Chicago school is not the originator of sociology, then why spend so much time reading, thinking about, or debating it? If Morris is right, graduate students should instead focus upon the real innovators and founders: Du Bois and his "Atlanta School" of sociology. It only struck me after reading this book that Du Bois had barely if ever appeared on any my graduate school syllabi. Yet, this is not a question of adding more thinkers to the sociology canon. If Morris is right, there is an argument to make that Du Bois and the Atlanta School should replace the Chicago School, not just be added alongside it. For, with The Scholar Denied, Du Bois can no longer be seen as the "first black sociologist," the originator of "African-American sociology," or the one who pioneered the study of African-American communities. He must instead be seen as the first scientific sociologist who is the rightful progenitor of American sociology itself.
And it works the other way around. With Morris' book, the Chicago school - and indeed early mainstream American sociology in general - can be exposed for what it was: a parochial if not provincial body of thought that reflected little else than the worldview and groping aspirations of a handful of middling white men whose interests were tethered to the interests of the American empire: men who had to suppress those others from whom insights they drew in order to be.
Admittedly, this exaggerates the arguments made in Morris' landmark book. It is perhaps the most extreme conclusion one might draw. But what makes The Scholar Denied so important is that it renders this conclusion possible and plausible at all. Thankfully, The Scholar Denied helps those of us who are willing to go there, get there.
From the Margins
Let us return to the first issue on the table: the Chicago School. There is at least one good reason for why Chicago heralds itself as the founding school of American sociology. It is not mere self-congratulation. Nor is it the fact that Chicago founded The American Journal of Sociology. The reason why Chicago heralds itself as the founding school is because everyone else does too. "[T]he history of sociology in America," declared Lewis A. Coser in 1978, "can largely be written as the history of the Department of Sociology at the University of Chicago."  It is "hard not to see Chicago," declares Ken Plummer more recently, "as the fons et origio of modern sociology.  Sociology's "first great institutional base was at the University of Chicago," Calhoun announces.  And, presumably, it was the first great intellectual base: the leading sociologists at Chicago transformed sociology into an empirical science, finally turning "sociology from social philosophy toward empirical research." 
Morris is alive to the fact that this is the "hegemonic narrative" about the origins of sociology, and his masterful book does not so much puncture holes in it as overthrow it entirely. "There is an intriguing, well-kept secret regarding the founding of scientific sociology in America," reads the opening paragraph of The Scholar Denied. "The first school of scientific sociology in the United States was founded by a black professor located in a historically black university in the South."  The origins of scientific sociology, in other words, do not lie in the Chicago School but in W.E.B. Du Bois and his Atlanta School. In the early twentieth century, "the black sociologist, scholar and activist W.E.B. Du Bois developed the first scientific school of sociology at Atlanta University. […] Du Bois was the first social scientist to establish a sociological laboratory where systematic empirical research was conducted." 
Du Bois and his school innovated on several fronts. The first has to do with the "scientific" aspect of sociology or, rather, the empirical aspect. According to the hegemonic narrative, it was the Chicago School that innovated: the sociologists of Chicago were the first to go into communities, observe, collect data, and then systematically analyze it. "The city of Chicago served as a social laboratory where empirical research conducted on the major social processes unfolding in one of the world's great modern cities."  As Andrew Abbott avers, one overarching characteristic of the Chicago School was that "it always has a certain empirical, even observational flavor, whether it is counting psychotics in neighborhoods, reading immigrants' letters to the old country, or watching the languid luxuries of the taxi-dance hall." The culmination was The Polish Peasant in Europe and America (1918). But Morris persuasively shows that The Philadelphia Negro by Du Bois, completed in 1897 and published in 1899 (nineteen years before the publication of The Polish Peasant), is the more deserving text. The Philadelphia Negro was motivated precisely by Du Bois' interest in systematically studying African Americans. Whereas previous work "on the Negro question" had been "notoriously uncritical," in Du Bois' own words, and lacking "discrimination in the selection and weighing of evidence," Du Bois insisted upon "scientific research" to study the issue, and The Philadelphia Negro was his early testament. Focusing upon the Seventh Ward of Philadelphia. Replete with historical and comparative analysis, the work resulted from "extensive interviews, with all families in the ward…surveys, archival data, and ethnographic data from participant observation." 
After moving to Atlanta University, Du Bois continued this innovative work. Though his resources paled in comparison to those of the wealthy Department of Sociology at Chicago, Du Bois put together a team of researchers to study African Americans in their communities and held conferences for researchers on black life in America. They carried out the sort of empirically driven work he had pioneered in The Philadelphia Negro but this time studying a variety of African-American communities, from rural communities to modern cities in the south and north. His teams included black scholars like Monroe Work, who had previously earned his AB and MA from the University of Chicago but who then joined Du Bois's research team to conduct studies on race, politics, crime and the black church. His teams included graduate as well as undergraduate students, alumni of black colleges, and community leaders. Morris shows how an entire "hidden generation" of sociologists was connected with the school. Besides Work, there was Richard R. Wright, Jr. and George Edmund Haynes. These and others "who apprenticed with Du Bois constituted the first generation of black sociologists" and went on to make significant contributions to the field. 
The conferences held at Atlanta University were a vital part of the school. Held each spring, they brought together white, black, male and female scholars and attracted wide interest. Already by 1902, the "Atlanta Conference" was being heralded by some as an important graduate training institution for the "study of the social problems in the South by the most approved scientific methods" - as Frank Tolman wrote in his survey of sociology courses and departments.  For at least a decade, a period spanning the first years of the twentieth century, the Atlanta School worked ceaselessly, producing published work like The Negro Artisan (1902), among a variety of papers. Morris declares "no comparable research programs existed that produced empirical research on African Americans" in these years.  And the Atlanta Conference saw the participation of people like Charles William Eliot, the twenty-first president of Harvard University, as well as Jane Addams, Florence Kelley, Walter Wilcox, and Franz Boas - the famous anthropologist whose thinking on race purportedly helped upend biological determinism in social science.
Du Bois is often noted to be the first "black" sociologist, but Morris' point here is that Du Bois more rightfully deserves to be among the first empirical sociologists, period. Given his work on Philadelphia and his painstaking research at Atlanta, Du Bois stands as "the first number-crunching, surveying, interviewing, participant-observing and field-working sociologist in America," even originating what we call today "triangulation." Notable (white) journalists like Ray Stannard Baker declared Du Bois in 1908 to be "today one of the able sociologists in this country", who work from Atlanta was "work of sound scholarship" that "furnish the student with the best single source of accurate information regarding the Negro at present obtainable in the country."  At this point Robert E. Park had not even started his position at the University of Chicago. And it would take another ten years before Thomas and Znaniecki's The Polish Peasant would hit the bookshops.
The erasure is almost pernicious. 
Still, just at this point of possible historical recovery, even the most sympathetic readers might raise questions. If everyone at the time, and everyone still, turns to the Chicago School for influence, and heralds the Chicago School as the real founding institution, does not that itself prove that Chicago deserves the title of originator? How can Morris claim that Du Bois is the rightful founder of scientific sociology if he was not influential as such?
On this point, anonymous posts on the internet forum "Sociology Job Rumors" are telling. The site is a repository for students to post information about the sociology job market, but it has morphed into a site that gives license to certain would-be sociologists with a little learning to say a lot. Recently on the site, someone mentioned The Scholar Denied, and many of the posted responses were incredulous. One declared that since Du Bois was not cited and was instead marginalized, he cannot be considered a founder: "a citation analysis would be necessary evidence to make an argument for the 'founder' of any scientific advance." Another post added "I'm not sure how DuBois can be a founder while also being so marginalized." "I'd venture that of the early 20th century black sociologists," wrote another, "Cox, Frazier, and perhaps a few others were at least as influential on the field as Dubois, if not more so." 
The remarkable thing about The Scholar Denied is that it shows us that, in fact, Du Bois was influential at the time. Morris mobilizes an array of impressive information revealing that Du Bois influenced a range of thinkers whose debt to Du Bois has been covered up. Standard histories of sociology, for example, overlook the black sociologists of the Atlanta School and instead point to Oliver Cox, Charles S. Johnson or E. Franklin Frazier from the 1920s and 1930s who were advised by Park at Chicago (the influence of these histories upon present-day students is seen in the website discussions noted above). But the impact of Du Bois upon these thinkers is clear. Frazier's most important book was The Negro Family in the United States, and in 1939, just after its publication, Frazier wrote to Du Bois to tell him that Du Bois' "pioneer contributions to the study of the Negro family" was influential upon him, and that much of Frazier's own work - and of his colleagues - is merely "building upon a tradition inaugurated by you in the Atlanta studies." 
The list of others influenced by Du Bois is long. It extends to Gunnar Myrdal, whose book An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy (1944) influenced Supreme Court decisions and became a social science classic. Morris notes that Myrdal himself pointed to Du Bois' The Philadelphia Negro as a model for the sort of work done in An American Dilemma . Even more significantly, Mydral's influential work cites Du Bois eighty-three times, but Park only nine.
According to Morris, Du Bois' influence even extended to Park himself. Park's 1928 article on "marginal man" in The American Journal of Sociology is the smoking gun. In that article, Park proposed that migration produces a hybrid type of social being, someone trapped in the "traditions of two distinct peoples." Park credits Simmel's concept of the stranger as inspirational. But according to Morris, who ably marshals evidence provided by Chad Goldberg and others, it was Du Bois' concept of "double consciousness" that was determinant. Park just did not bother to cite it. 
Or, take another example: Max Weber. While many histories of sociology claim that Weber mentored Du Bois while Du Bois studied in Germany in the 1890s, they are just plain wrong. While known in Germany, Weber was not yet a famous sociologist in the US (and he would not be until after the Second World War) and was only four years older than Du Bois. While the two were in Germany, "they were both essentially graduate students."  By the time Weber had travelled to the US in 1904, Du Bois had already published influential works (not only The Philadelphia Negro but also the widely popular The Souls of Black Folk), and in this sense it was Du Bois who was the known sociologist in the United States, not Weber. This probably explains why Weber wrote to Du Bois on a number of other occasions, extolling the virtues of Du Bois' The Souls of Black Folk, urging it be translated to German, and inviting Du Bois to come to Germany. It is also probably why Weber asked Du Bois to write something on caste relations for Weber's journal, Archiv für Sozialwissenschaft and Sozialpolitik. The invitation resulted in the 1906 publication of "Die Negerfrage in den Vereinigten Staaten" nestled between articles by Robert Michels and Georg Simmel, and its theorization of race in the US as a caste system shaped Weber's own thinking on caste stratification.
In short, the elevation of the Chicago School has served to marginalize Du Bois, even as Du Bois was profoundly influential for his time. Narrating this tension is one of the many virtues of Morris' book, and it marks the tragedy that The Scholar Denied writes for us - that we have erased the history of Du Bois' profound influence upon sociology from our most influential histories of sociology. We assume Weber taught Du Bois. We herald Frazier as the most influential black sociologist. We herald Robert E. Park as the innovator. So how did this marginalization and erasure happen?
Heterodoxies of Race
It would be comforting to think that Du Bois was marginalized because of the narrow racism of the white establishment - the result of white racists who suppressed Du Bois out of their own deep prejudices against African-Americans. It would be comforting not because the story would be a happy one, but because the ending would be hopeful. Since we sociologists are no longer racists, we can rest peacefully knowing that we would not conduct such an injustice today. And we can excuse the early racists as being men of their time. Who was not racist in early 20th century America?
There is no doubt that naked racism played a role in the marginalization of Du Bois. In The Scholar Denied, Morris multiplies examples. How Gunnar Myrdal or Robert Park directly prevented Du Bois from receiving the right resources, assignments, and credit are riveting parts of the book. But the story Morris tells in The Scholar Denied is also subtler. It does not boil down to acts of racial discrimination by a few men. Morris instead reconstructs the field of sociology at the time, and, drawing upon Pierre Bourdieu's field theory, shows how Du Bois suffered from his particular position within the field as a black man operating in institutions without sufficient resources. It was a matter of the unequal distribution of capitals in the field of sociology at the time. 
Still, there is another explanatory current amidst the flow. It is not only that Du Bois was black and other sociologists were white, or that Du Bois suffered from lack of capital, it is also that he had dangerous ideas. To be sure, Du Bois innovated by his empirical orientation and methodology. But Du Bois also innovated substantively, birthing a sociology of race that aimed to wrestle discourse on race away from the Darwinistic, biological and frankly racist sociological episteme of the day. Participants and promoters of that episteme included most all other white sociologists, and Morris pulls no punches when pointing out how the Chicago School was at the center of sociologically racist thought. In riveting swaths of The Scholar Denied, we learn about Robert Park's racist sociology, for example, a sociology that "portrayed African Americans" as "handicapped by a double heritage of biological and cultural inferiority."  These views compelled Park to side with Booker T. Washington in suggesting that the best route for African-Americans was to become manual laborers rather than to try overcome their "savage" origins (in Park's own terminology). These views also compelled Park to conclude that blacks should stay away from cities, for there they would "only succumb to the vice, disease, crime, and other evils rampant in city life."  And Park's own famous theory on the cycle of race relations was underwritten by Darwinistic thought on the inferiority of non-whites. Park's thought was merely the "conceptual framework" that could explain and hence legitimate why the whites of Europe and the US were dominating the world through colonialism -and why race relations throughout the globe were so tumultuous. 
Du Bois would have none of this. For, unlike Park, Du Bois' thinking on race was rooted not only in his personal experience as an African-American but also in actual empirical research. Indeed, as Morris demonstrates, Park was the subjective, unscientific sociologist, not Du Bois. Morris points out how Park's study of the black church was based upon "assertions and the testimony of questionable informants", unlike Du Bois' truly scientific research.  And Park's other work, including his theory of the race relations cycle, relied upon little else than deduction, along with his own "impressions, opinions and beliefs." Worse still, it was based upon "intuition, impressions, opinions, and travelers' tales told by individuals with ideological axes to grind and power to protect."  Du Bois' work, using systematically and painstakingly collected data on communities about which Park had little inkling, instead showed the social production of racial inferiority rather than its biological or even cultural determination. In contrast to Park, therefore, Du Bois' sociological research led him to break completely from social Darwinism and claims "that biology and cosmically driven forms of interaction determined race dynamics and racially based social conditions." 
In this sense, Du Bois prefigured or at least paralleled the thinking of Franz Boas, showing that racial and as well as gender inequalities "derived from exploitation, domination, and human agency exercised by both oppressors and the oppressed."  Boas is typically taken to be the major thinker who moved social science "beyond biological explanations of race to explanations highlighting culture as the determinant of racial outcomes."  But along with Boas (with whom Du Bois corresponded for decades), Du Bois also "advanced and supported with his scholarship the idea that races were socially created categories and that, despite the scientific racism of the day, blacks were not racially inferior." 
Morris thus raises the possibility that Du Bois should be credited with shifting the paradigm of thinking on race in the US. In any case, Morris is unequivocal on just how seminal and important Du Bois' line of thinking is, at least compared to Park:
While Park clung to the heritage of nineteenth-century thinking who stressed natural racial hierarchies, and biological determinism, Du Bois foreshadowed the current social constructionist approach, which emphasizes race as a social construct and highlights the role of power in establishing and maintaining racial inequalities. 
The astonishing thing is that Du Bois came to his thinking on race at least a decade if not more before Robert E. Park was spouting his theory of the race relations cycle. Park's thought was retrograde, even as the hegemonic narrative heralds Park's thought on race as innovative.
We can now begin to see that the reason for why Du Bois was marginalized, and why his influence has been obscured, is not just his skin color. It is also that he was intellectual insurrectionary - intellectually heterodox - challenging the hegemony of scientific racism upon which white sociology had been mounted at the time. Heterodoxies rarely win over orthodoxy, but imagine how much more difficult it must have been given that the heterodoxy came from a black man in early twentieth century America? And how much more if the orthodoxy in question - scientific racism - had institutions with money behind it, while the heterodoxy had almost no resources? This is the story Morris tells: Du Bois was marginalized partly because Du Bois and his colleagues were right, and mainstream sociology was wrong, and yet mainstream sociology had all the power to define right and wrong in the first place.
Throughout The Scholar Denied we see more closely how this marginalization and erasure worked. Morris shows, for example, how the anti-scientific racism of Boas and Du Bois developed in tandem, and that they corresponded and held each other with mutual respect and admiration, but that Boas' views were later accepted and Du Bois marginalized because Boas was better positioned as a white male at Columbia University. We see how Du Bois laboriously built his Atlanta School but how he faced countless difficulties stemming from limited funding and institutional help. And we see how he was repeatedly set aside due to claims that, as a black man, his sociology was taken by the powers-that-be to be "biased" (while work by Myrdal, for example, was presumed to not be biased despite the fact that Myrdal was white).
One instance of this suppression of heterodoxy is especially worth noting. When Du Bois argued that his findings proved that black people were not inferior, the US Department of Labor refused to publish his work and even destroyed the manuscript report on the grounds that it "touched on political matters."  All the while, when Park at Chicago or Giddings at Columbia proclaimed the inferiority of the "savage races", their views were taken to be not political. They were taken to be objective, while the views of Du Bois were not. Institutional racism here took the form of claims to objectivity and science - and both functioned to suppress heterodoxic social theory.
The story told by Morris is tragic. But, on the other hand, it should not be entirely surprising. After all, sociology, as it has come to us through the Chicago School, Columbia University and other major white institutions was founded as a project of and for power. It emerged in the nineteenth century as an intellectual formation meant to manage disorder from below: to stave off the threats to social order and coherence posed by recalcitrant workers, immigrants, women, and natives.  Let us not forget: the earliest use of the term "sociology" in the title of a book in the United States came from George Fitzhugh and Henry Hughes, who used it as part of their intellectual effort to vindicate the slave system in the American South.  And later in the nineteenth century, as sociological ideas conjoined with scientific racism, and as sociology began to be institutionalized at Chicago or Columbia, sociology's task become one of giving intellectual coherence to the fact of ongoing imperial domination, offering a putatively scientific justification for Anglo-Saxon rule over those whom sociologist Franklin Giddings and others referred to as the "savage hordes" and "inferior races" of the world. 
Orthodox sociology as it first emerged was parochial to the core, in the sense that it represented a very particular worldview and standpoint. It embedded and embodied the mindset of white elites in the dominant imperial metropoles that, in those tumultuous decades of the early twentieth century, were extending their violent imperial hand around the world in the name of civilization - and to the tragic detriment of Du Bois' distant African ancestors. 
No doubt, all social science is parochial. It comes from a place. It is shaped by the interests behind, around, and subventing it. Each theoretical construction embeds a specific standpoint. Did Du Bois and the Atlanta School have a distinct standpoint? Of course. theirs was a standpoint that came not only from their personal experience but also through their empirical research into black communities. Theirs was a standpoint that summoned the question that Du Bois famously asked in The Souls of Black Folk: "how does it feel to be a problem?"  This is the standpoint that emerged from the field research of Du Bois and his teams. But white privileged departments of Sociology also had their distinct standpoint. And theirs was the standpoint of imperial power. Theirs was the standpoint that did not ask how it "felt" to be a problem but that thought in terms of "social problems" that had to be managed. And theirs was the standpoint that defined social problems as anything that disturbed, upset, or challenged the social order of the metropole and the global order of racial domination.
So yes, all social science is parochial. The difference is that some of these standpoints get valorized as universal and others get marginalized as particularistic. Some become heralded as objective and true, others get resisted as subjective or irrelevant. Orthodox sociology, such as that which emerged at Chicago, is parochial yet it masquerades as universal, and it has only been able to pull off this God trick because of the money and resources behind it - money and resources which the Atlanta School were not afforded.
Running through The Scholar Denied, however implicitly, is this very story of standpoints, power, and marginalization. And this is why the story of The Scholar Denied is much bigger than a professional insider's debate about founders; bigger than something that only the History of Sociology Section of the ASA should bother with. It is also bigger than questions about who to include on our syllabi, or what stories we tell of the University of Chicago. It is a wake up call about our own professional doxa. It is a call to be just a little more skeptical about those sociological standpoints that purport universality when are not - and can never be. And it is a call to be just a little more open to those standpoints that get occluded: standpoints which would otherwise lead us to real and valuable insights into the social world, just as did the work of Du Bois.
Amidst the discussion of The Scholar Denied on the website "Sociology Job Rumors", one respondent wrote that they will not bother reading the book because "it's not relevant to the discipline today." If this is representative of the minds of sociology PhD students in the US today, we are in a sad state indeed. For what this sort of presentist response misses is that the story of Du Bois, his influence, and his occlusion is relevant to the discipline today. It is crucial for the discipline today. For it speaks to a general social process in the academy that reenacts today what had happened to Du Bois back then (however in ways that we might not easily see). The Scholar Denied is a powerful and persuasive plea to pay attention to those voices that might still be unwittingly relegated to the margins on the grounds of their ostensible particularism or subjectivism. And it is a reminder that the cost of such marginalization is not simply an ethical one, it is an epistemic one. And it is one that sociology cannot afford.
Originally published under the title "The Case for Scholarly Reparations" by the Berkeley Journal of Sociology.