James E. Blackwell and the Founding of the Association of Black Sociologists
Wornie Reed and Howard Taylor
James Blackwell, along with Tillman Cothran, provided major leadership in the creation of Caucus of Black Sociologists (CBS) and later the Association of Black Sociologists (ABS). In 1968 black sociologists began their push with Tilman C. Cothran providing the initial leadership, leading to the formation of the CBS. The Caucus petitioned for greater roles for black sociologists in ASA. After some progress, but not enough for most members of the CBS, the Caucus began its move toward becoming the independent Association of Black Sociologists. Blackwell became president of CBS in 1970 and led the organization through a tumultuous period ending in the creation of ABS in 1976.
In the late 1960s, it had become eminently clear, at least to most active black sociologists of the day, that their thinking, work, and research were given gravely insufficient attention by the American Sociological Association (ASA). During this time black sociologists, along with other black professionals within larger professional bodies inside and outside academia, were beginning to organize and push for greater recognition and opportunities.
The impetus for the Association of Black Sociologists (ABS), originally the Caucus of Black Sociologists (CBS) lay in James Conyers’s listing of “Living Negro Doctorates in Sociology.” Sent around in 1966, this list contained 121 names of black Americans with doctorates in sociology. Conyers assembled the list by contacting the sociology departments of all the PhD-granting institutions in the United States (Conyers 1968). Once a critical mass was identified, the next step was thinking about what black sociologists might do as a group.
From what has been written about the founding of the CBS, it is clear that—dutifully respecting all who participated in the deliberations of the time—James E. Blackwell, as first national chair, along with Tillman C. Cothran, provided major leadership.
In 1968 black sociologists began their push with Cothran initially providing leadership. Dismayed at the lack of participation by black sociologists in the annual ASA meetings, Cothran, chair of sociology at Atlanta University and editor of Phylon, called together black sociologists at the 1968 meeting to discuss this issue and to develop an approach to solutions (Conyers 1992).
At this annual meeting in 1968, therefore, the Caucus of Black Sociologists was formed. At the time it was a loosely structured ad hoc group under the Cothran’s leadership. The CBS developed and presented six resolutions to the ASA:
- Whereas historically black Americans have been excluded from the mainstream of institutional and professional life in the United States;
- Whereas the large number of black sociologists in America have not participated fully in the activities of the American Sociological Association;
- Whereas black sociologists have only token representation in the formal and informal structure of the Association;
- Whereas the growth of sociology in the United States has been related to minority and ethnic group problems and is today increasingly focused on the dominant domestic issue—the struggle for justice and equality for black Americans;
- Whereas the experiences and professional competence of black sociologists are indispensable for sound interpretation of research and theory related to the black community;
- Whereas a pattern has developed in the Association which allows unfair advantage to certain renowned members of the Association to hold multiple chairmanships and representation on panels;
Be It Therefore Resolved:
- That the Council of the Association should always have representation from the black membership;
- That a greater effort should be made to assign black sociologists to membership and chairmanships on standing and ad hoc committees;
- That the black sociologists should serve more frequently as chairmen of sections in programs of Association meetings;
- That black sociologists should always be represented as presenters of papers and as discussants on programs which have major relevance to the black community;
- That criteria of acceptance of papers for the American Sociological Association journals should be clearly enunciated and publicized so that all members, especially black members, will have equal opportunity for the acceptance of their papers; and
- That black sociologists be secured as readers and referees of papers for publication in the American Sociological Association’s journals. (Blackwell 1974:351–52)
The ASA Council passed these six resolutions by a majority vote in the ASA Council, which issued the following resolution:
- Whereas, historically black Americans have been excluded from the mainstream of institutional and professional life in the United States, be it resolved, that the American Sociological Association shall make every effort to ensure that black sociologists are brought into fullest participation in all aspects of the governance and other activities of the Association. (Blackwell 1974:352)
After the ASA Council passed this resolution expressing support for the resolutions of the CBS, the Committee on Committees of ASA requested a list of black sociologists who might be appointed to ASA standing and ad hoc committees. As a result, seven blacks were appointed to various committees in 1969. However, there was limited success in getting blacks on significant committees. Cothran was nominated but not elected to the Committee on Publications, and Joseph Himes was unsuccessful in running for the ASA Council. Both Hylan Lewis and G. Franklin Edwards were nominated, but only Edwards won a one-year appointment to the Committee on Committees. However, there were several black participants on session panels at the 1969 annual meeting (Blackwell 1974).
Not satisfied with their progress in becoming more involved, the ad hoc CBS, this time led by Ernest Works, a former student of Cothran, presented more resolutions at the 1969 annual meeting of the ASA:
- The Black Caucus has considered at great length the relation of black sociologists to the American Sociological Association. On the basis of our discussions we have concluded that the procedures employed by ASA effectively exclude black sociologists from meaningful participation in the activities of the Association. We define this situation as intolerable and feel that remedial action should be taken forthwith.
The resolution went on to demand greater participation of black sociologists in the ASA and that the ASA develop funding for scholarships for black students. The CBS also criticized the ASA for its silence on social issues and expressed its support for several positions on issues, including opposition to the war in Vietnam, the suppression of the Black Panther Party, and the firing of Nathan Hare by San Francisco State College.
CBS was organized formally at the ASA meeting in Washington, DC, in 1970, with James E. Blackwell as the temporary spokesperson. Blackwell, James E. Conyers, Jacquelyne J. Jackson (Duke), Joseph Scott (Notre Dame), and others developed directions for CBS, resolutions to be presented to ASA, and an election procedure for the organization.
Later in November of 1970, Blackwell was elected national chair of CBS for a two-year term. Jacquelyne Jackson was chosen as secretary-treasurer; Ernest Works was elected program chair, Edgar Epps as chair of the Research Committee, and Charles V. Willie and Charles King as chair and cochair of the Membership Committee. Executive Committee members selected were James E. Conyers, Tilman C. Cothran, Ralph Hines, Albert McQueen, Joseph W. Scott, Charles U. Smith, Alphonso Pinckney, Walter L. Wallace, and William J. Wilson (Conyers 1992).
By 1970, seven black sociologists had been nominated to run for the ASA Council, but only one (Charles V. Willie) was elected. Yet, to the credit of the 1970 ASA Council, fifteen black sociologists were appointed to additional committees, namely: three Constitutional Committees (the 1971 Program Committee, the Committee on Regional Affairs, and the Committee on Training and Professional Ethics), seven standing committees, two ad hoc committees, and the Board of Directors of the SSRC.
The month following his election as president in November 1970, Blackwell sent a letter to the CBS membership (Blackwell 1970). In this letter, he reported on the status of the CBS resolutions offered at the annual meeting of ASA in Washington, DC, in August of 1970.
- Representation on the Council of the ASA. The resolution called for three black sociologists on the council. The council voted to do all that was constitutionally possible to increase representation and acknowledged the need for different procedures to ensure the election of black sociologists. As one positive move, ASA President William Sewell appointed Blackwell to the council for the 1970–71 year.
- Black participation in the 1971 meeting in Denver. President Sewell appointed the following CBS members as program section chairs: G. Franklin Edwards (Race and Ethnic Relations), Charles V. Willie (Urban Sociology), Roy Bryce-Laporte (Inequality among Nations), Harry Edwards (Sociology of Sports), and Ozzie Edwards (Man and His Physical Environment).
- Representation on committees. Blackwell reported that he was unable to give a precise number of black sociologists who had been appointed to ASA committees. He was confident, however, that a significant increase had occurred.
- The legitimacy of the CBS and its relationship with the ASA. Blackwell warned of the problem of self-determination if CBS functioned as a regular committee of the ASA. President Sewall appointed three ASA Council members, and Blackwell appointed four CBS members to a committee to determine the precise relationship between the CBS and the ASA.
- The DuBois-Johnson-Frazier Award. The ASA Council approved an award to commemorate the distinguished contributions of W.E.B. DuBois, Charles S. Johnson, and E. Franklin Frazier. The ASA Council appointed members, and the CBS selected members to serve on the selection committee.
Within two years, with Blackwell serving as chair of CBS, it became clear that, in Blackwell’s words, there had to be “unequivocal separation from the ASA.” That form of separation meant that, by 1976, the Caucus of Black Sociologists became the independent Association of Black Sociologists. Blackwell’s achievements as chair from 1968 through 1976 were noteworthy and numerous, including but not limited to: preparation of constitutions for both the CBS and ABS; the establishment—within the ASA—of the Committee on the Status of Racial and Ethnic Minorities; the establishment of the hugely successful Minority Fellowship Program; and the inauguration of the distinguished DuBois-Johnson-Frazier Award, now called the Cox-Johnson-Frazier Award (Oliver Cox was the first recipient). There was also broader participation of black sociologists within the overall structure and programs of the ASA.
Also during Blackwell’s term as chair, he and Morris Janowitz held a National Conference of Black Sociologists, sponsored by the University of Chicago. Papers from this conference were published in the book Black Sociologists: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives, edited by Blackwell and Janowitz. This was a much-needed volume on the work of black sociologists and black sociological thought. Doris Wilkinson (1975) in her review of the book said, “Hopefully this anthology will provide a data base for future incorporation of black sociologists’ conceptual paradigms into mainstream sociology.”
THE MINORITY FELLOWSHIP PROGRAM: EDUCATION AND AFFIRMATIVE ACTION
At the annual meeting of ASA, held in Washington, DC, CBS Chair Blackwell presented resolutions from the CBS aimed at systemic change in ASA, including the resolution that created the Minority Fellowship Program:
Establish an Opportunities Fellowship Program to provide stipends for graduate training in sociology for representatives of minority groups (especially under-represented Black Americans, Chicano Americans, Puerto Rican Americans, and Native Americans) (Blackwell 1988:2).
At the time this resolution was presented, there was a paucity of black sociologists. Conyers (1968) had shown that there were only 121 blacks who had a doctorate in sociology in 1966. There was just a handful of Puerto Rican and Chicano recipients of a sociology doctorate, and even fewer Native Americans.
In 1971 the ASA Council approved the establishment of an Executive Office for Minorities and Women, which would concentrate on the issues of recruitment, training, and professional development of sociologists from minority groups and women, and a fellowship program for racial and ethnic minorities. To fund these efforts, the council authorized the ASA executive officer to seek funding.
African American Maurice Jackson was hired as the first executive specialist for minorities, and he and Jay Demerath, the executive officer, aggressively sought funding for the program. They obtained funding for the Minority Fellowship Program (MFP) from the Center for Minority Group Mental Health Professional Programs, Division of Special Mental Health Programs of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). The initial grant of $1.2 million was awarded in 1973 and covered a six-year period. The ASA received additional support from the National Institute of Education (NIE).
Blackwell characterized the creation of the MFP as an extension of integrationist and assimilationist goals for the Civil Rights Movement into professional organizations dominated by a white male population. The MFP started in 1974, and since then it has supported more than five hundred sociologists of color (Blackwell 1974).
The establishment of the Minority Fellowship Program was not without controversy. Its creation caused an uproar in the ASA. While the majority of the ASA membership either welcomed the existence of the MFP or were silent, a vocal minority raised strenuous objections. Some of them resigned their membership in the ASA in protest. They referred to programs like the MFP as reverse discrimination and preferential treatment. The MFP and ASA’s favorable response to the resolutions of CBS precipitated extensive debates about universalistic criteria versus particularistic approaches (Blackwell 1988).
SOCIOLOGICAL ANALYSIS OF SOCIOLOGISTS
Blackwell argued that despite the perceptions of the ASA as a traditional liberal organization, its elitist practices through the 1960s gave it a highly conservative character. His knowledge is first hand, as he led the struggle to integrate the activities of the ASA, and he provided an analysis of that struggle during the process in his article “Role Behavior in a Corporate Structure: Black Sociologists in ASA” (Blackwell 1974).
The full inclusion of black sociologists as a force within the field of professional sociology of course flew in the face of standard white sociology and sociologists who generally claim so-called universalistic criteria—as opposed to particularistic criteria. Black sociologists were aware of the use of universalistic criteria as determinants for eligibility in the leadership structure of ASA; however, it was not clear what these criteria were.
We know that universalistic criteria (1) vary in time, (2) are socially defined, and (3) are intrinsically interconnected with the social structure of privilege and its maintenance (Duster 1976). But as Troy Duster explains, there are universalistic and meritocratic criteria that should be important, for example, in hiring or college admissions; however, there are other criteria that are appropriate depending upon place and circumstance, and other criteria that are unfair or discriminatory.
Implicitly, the CBS claimed that some of the universalistic criteria were discriminatory. Whether or not they were, only one black scholar had appeared on the program at the annual ASA meeting in 1968.
THE BLACK STRUGGLE IN THE ASA
Viewing their situation in the ASA in the late 1960s, black sociologists began asking questions about the meaning of being part of a predominately white community of scholars. “These questions were posed at a time when radical social and political changes were occurring with the black community in America...a time when the pacifist character of the civil rights movement was giving way to the new forms of militancy and confrontation in the black liberation movement” (Blackwell 1974:350).
The CBS in 1968–1970 sought radical changes to the opportunity structure within ASA; however, according to Blackwell, this effort was consistent with assimilationist ideology. During this time of upheaval and conflict among black Americans over approaches to integration into American society, black sociologists were similarly conflicted. Some members held to the idea of assimilating into the mainstream—of society and therefore the ASA. Others advocated separation from the almost exclusively white ASA. This latter group argued that a precedent had already been set with the establishment of the Association of Black Psychologists in 1968 (Blackwell 1974). Early on the assimilationists won and all efforts focused on forcing the ASA to open itself up to substantial participation by black sociologists.
Despite the 1970 appointments of black sociologists to committees, however, blacks fared poorly in the 1970 ASA elections. Thus, it became evident to the ad hoc CBS that a more formal organizational structure was needed. The formalization of the CBS in 1970 with James Blackwell as chair thus followed.
By 1972, Blackwell felt that ASA President William Sewell and ASA Council members were much more positive and effective than previous ASA leaders. Seventeen black sociologists were appointed to ASA committees raising the total representation to 9 percent. At the annual meeting in New Orleans in 1972, at least thirty-five black sociologists were active participants in sessions (Blackwell 1974).
As a member of the ASA Council Blackwell was a strong and reasoned voice for the CBS. As he stated, “It can be assumed that an overall increase in the number of black participants in programmatic and organizational activities of the ASA would have occurred without a black on the Council. However, it is highly doubtful that the proportion would have been as great without that presence or without interaction between the president of the association and the national chairman of the CBS”—that is, between ASA President William Sewell and CBS Chair James Blackwell (Blackwell 1988).
About the Authors
Wornie Reed is Professor of Sociology and Africana Studies and director of the Race and Social Policy Research Center at Virginia Polytechnic Institute.
Howard Taylor is Professor of Sociology Emeritus at Princeton University
Blackwell, James E. 1970. Letter to the Caucus of Black Sociologists. Dec. Unpublished manuscript.
Blackwell, James E. 1974. “Role Behavior in a Corporate Structure: Black Sociologists in ASA.” Pp. 341–67 in Black Sociologists: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives, edited by James E. Blackwell and Morris Janowitz. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Blackwell, James E. 1988. “Historical Development of the Minority Fellowship Program.” Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association, August, Atlanta, Georgia.
Blackwell, James E., and Morris Janowitz, eds. 1974. Black Sociologists: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Conyers, James E. 1968. “Negro Doctorates in Sociology: A Social Portrait.” Phylon 29 (Fall):209–23.
Conyers, James E. 1992. “The Association of Black Sociologists: A Descriptive Account from an ‘Insider.’” American Sociologist 23(1):49–55.
Duster, Troy. 1976. “The Structure of Privilege and Its Universe of Discourse.” American Sociologist 11(2):73–78.
Wilkinson, Doris Y. 1975. Review of Black Sociologists: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives. American Journal of Sociology 81(2):461–62.