The Sociologist as Renaissance Man: The Life and Work of James E. Blackwell
Rutledge M. Dennis and Wornie Reed
This review of the life and work of James E. Blackwell probes the multifaceted life of a renaissance man whose interests and accomplishments are truly astonishing, and whose successful multiple careers would readily identify him as, according to Isaiah Berlin, a “fox,” who does many things well, rather than the “hedgehog,” who does only one thing well. Blackwell played a crucial role during the 1960s and 1970s, a time when political, social, economic, cultural, and educational rebellions and revolutions upended the nation and the world. It was in the midst of these ongoing changes that Blackwell emerged as a social, cultural, and a political advocate. Indeed, one of the authors in this volume uses the term “insurgency” to describe Blackwell’s role as a founder and key advocate of the Association of Black Sociologists. As the essays in this volume forthrightly proclaim, Blackwell was propelled by his advocacy and activism into roles as organizer, planner, human rights leader, mentor, urban strategist, academic administrator, civil rights leader, and community organizer.
This advocacy and activism were connected along a single thread to the world of race and ethnicity, with a particular focus on black Americans. Within this world we see Blackwell’s critique of American life in general, and on the unique role blacks have played, and continue to play, in the making and reshaping of both the micro and macro dimensions of American life, and within that context, black life. Blackwell’s many contributions to the profession of sociology, academic administration, faculty and student development, federal government service, and civil rights advocacy and activism illustrate his profound interest in the making and reshaping these features of American life.
The essays in this volume not only attest to the impact James E. Blackwell has made on the personal lives of the authors. Of equal importance is the ways in which Blackwell’s scholarship has enriched their sociological lives.
Rutledge M. Dennis is Professor of Sociology and Anthropology at George Mason University.
Wornie Reed is Professor of Sociology and Africana Studies and director of the Race and Social Policy Research Center at Virginia Polytechnic Institute.