DuBois: The Scholar Denied – a review in 2 parts

Morris, Aldon. 2015. The Scholar Denied: W. E. B. Du Bois and the Birth of Modern Sociology. University of California Press.  ISBN: 9780520960480

Aldon Morris’ book The Scholar Denied: W.E.B. Du Bois and the birth of Modern Sociology demonstrates how Du Bois 1890s empirical and statistical research on black communities and classes in the United States was suppressed by a version of sociology developed by Robert Park and others of the Chicago School. Du Bois was the first black PhD graduate of Harvard University and went on to study history at Humboldt University, Berlin (1892-4) and followed the lectures of Max Weber and Gustav von Schmoller. He some of the conducted the first empirical and statistical social studies, notably his pioneering urban sociology, The Philadelphia Negro (1899). As Chair of the Department of Sociology (1897-1910) and organizer of the Atlanta University Conference for the Study of the Negro Problems, he edited annual volumes from 1902.  Du Bois hypothesized that sociological and economic factors were the main causes of racial inequality in the United States, anchored in white racial oppression not black inferiority. Du Bois argued that social analysis would reveal the truth of race dynamics and education of talented blacks would allow them to succeed and to articulate this truth across many fields as leaders in business, the media and politics. Du Bois’ sociology was a weapon of liberation.

Rather than an isolated genius, Morris shows Du Bois’ institutional innovation and tireless development of programs and research. However much of Du Bois work has been suppressed in the history of sociological thought that locates the beginnings of North American sociology with the Chicago School and statistical research with the work of Giddings. In this line of thought, eugenics and racial segregation were important components that ran through the first half of the Twentieth Century until the end of the Second World War. Robert Park had a close association with the conservative approach to black advancement that through industrial manual labour and domestic service training. This was developed by Booker T. Washington at Tuskegee College and supported by American elites. Despite his status and success, Du Bois lost out in the power struggle with Washington in part because of the threat he posed to Jim Crow era social and legal norms. Before finding a place at University of Chicago, Park served as Washington’s press secretary and ghost writer. “Washington embraced racial inequality, declaring, ‘It is at the bottom of life we must begin, and not at the top” (The Booker T. Washington Papers v.3 [1895] 1974: 584). He assured white elites:

“You and your families will be surrounded by the most patient, faithful, law-abiding, and unresentful people that the world has seen. As we have proved our loyalty to you in the past, in nursing your children, watching by the sickbed of your mothers and fathers, and often following them with tear dimmed eyes to their graves, so in the future, in our humble way, we shall stand by you with a devotion that no foreigner can approach, ready to lay down our lives, if need be, in defense of yours” (Washington Papers [1895] 1974: 585).

By contrast, Du Bois linked racism to European and American imperialism and colonial exploitation of Africa. Morris focuses on the implications of the suppression of Du Bois contributions to the discipline of Sociology. However the book illustrates that Du Bois is not only recognizeable as a sociologist in a contemporary, turn-of-the-millenium sense, but is a precursor of post-colonial thought.

To be continued…

Caio Bersot (University of Alberta)


Harlan, Louis R. 1974. The Booker T. Washington Papers. Volume 3: 1889-95. P. 584-585. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. Online.

Du Bois, W. E. B.. 2010. The Philadelphia Negro. New York: Cosimo, Inc. Online.