Studies of Black Families

Dr. W. E. B. Du Bois, circa 1910 <br />

Dr. W. E. B. Du Bois during his tenure at Atlanta University from 1897 to 1910 established a department of sociology

What is a Negro college but a vast college settlement for the study of a particular set of peculiarly baffling problems? What more effective or suitable agency could be found in which to focus the scientific efforts of the great universities of the North and East, than an institution situated in the very heart of these social problems, and made the centre of carful historical and statistical research?

 William E.B. Du Bois, 1897

In 1897, after completing The Philadelphia Negro, Dr. Du Bois went to Atlanta University to teach history and economics, establish a department of sociology, and direct research on Black life. Annual conferences which investigated the condition of Blacks in cities had been inaugurated at the University, and Du Bois continued the tradition. He stipulated, however, that each year a single aspect of the Black problem, urban or rural, be studied in a scientific manner. These investigations, conducted primarily by students, gave the University, according to Du Bois, the distinction of being the only institution in the world engaged in “a systematic study of the Negro…and putting the result in a form available for scholars of the world.”

Houses in "Beaver Slide" Atlanta Neighborhood, circa 1920

Spelman Giles Hall rise above the Beaver Slide houses which were displaced in 1937 by University Homes, the first Black public housing project in the country.

Twenty-three studies, which were produced as part of this study conference series, appeared in what became known as the Atlanta University Publications. Most of these were conducted before Du Bois left Atlanta University in 1910 to become the editor of Crisis and the Director of Research and Publicity of the NAACP. The study subjects range from the common school and economic cooperation to crime and the family. They represent the pioneering efforts of sociological research in this country. The Negro American Family, which was published in 1908, approaches the subject from its African background, compiling what little data were then available, and reporting the results of a student survey of Georgia families. Although Du Bois’ prejudgments on Black morality are disturbing in light of the current scholarly reassessment of the Black family, this study stands today as one of the few compilations of empirical data on Black family conditions at the turn of the century.

Du Bois developed at Atlanta University a strong tradition of sociological research on Black life.  That tradition was enriched by other leading Black scholars. Among them was Dr. Ira De A. Reid (Class of 1922, Morehouse), former Director of Research for the National Urban League, who was by President John Hope in 1934 to teach in AU's sociology department. He joined Du Bois, who had also been encouraged by Hope to return to the department the same year. Following Du Bois’ retirement in 1944, Reid assumed the department chairmanship and later became editor of Phylon, which Du Bois had founded in 1940.

Joining the faculty as Dean of the School of Education in 1957 was Dr. Horace Mann Bond, who had been president of Fort Valley State College and Lincoln University (Pennsylvania). He conducted studies on education and Black families throughout his career. One of Dr. Bond's published works, Black American Scholars: A Study of their Beginnings, analyzed the relationship between family background and educational attainment.  The family histories which were compiled by his students and which are deposited in the Center's Woodruff Library Archives, are rich documents on Black genealogy and family life.

Toki Schalk Johnson, Women’s Editor, Pittsburg Courier, at Morehouse Institute on Successful Marriage and Family Living; Walter R. Chivers, left, Chair of Sociology Department and Founder of Institute; Samuel Williams, Professor of Religion, 1948<br />

Toki Schalk Johnson, Women’s Editor, Pittsburg Courier, at Morehouse Institute on Successful Marriage and Family Living; Walter R. Chivers, left, Chair of Sociology Department and founder of Institute; Samuel Williams, Professor of Religion, 1948.

In 1946, Professor Walter R. Chivers (Class of 1919, More- house), Chair of the Sociology Department at Morehouse, founded the Annual Institute on Successful Marriage and Family Living in cooperation with the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, The three-day institute, which attracted AUC and local high school students, brought to the campus both national and local authorities in the field of family education. Much of the spirit and substance of this early program was continued by Dr. Anna Grant, the present chair of the department and the Director of the Black Family Life Study Project which is envisioned to be a national center for the study of Black family life.

The Atlanta School of Social Work, which had been founded by E. Franklin Frazier and others at Morehouse in 1920, was incorporated in the AUC in 1938 after twenty-two years as an independent institution. It had moved from the Herndon Building at the corner of Auburn Avenue and Butler Street to the Atlanta University campus in 1933, and in 1947, having given up its separate charter, it became known as the Atlanta University School of Social Work. With the surrounding neighborhood as a laboratory, the school provided the first graduate instruction in social work for Blacks, many of whom received their field work training in social welfare agencies in Atlanta and throughout the nation.