Friday, November 29, 2013

Notes from Dr. Nathan Hare to Marvin X on Dr. E. Franklin Frazier (Black Bourgeoisie, 1957)


Just want to say E. Franklin Frazier was president of the American Sociological Association (then called the American Sociological Society until they realized the initials were ASS) in 1948. Six years later the Supreme Court Decision 1954. Then came Montgomery and Emmitt Till circa 1955/56.  Bourgoisie Noir (France, 1956). Black Bourgeoisie (1957). Sit-in movement, 1960, Freedom Riders, 1961. Frazier king if the hill at Howard in 1961. Five years later Black Power (1966), Howard rebellion they like to hide, 1967. Echo/building takeover in 1968 they like to applaud. If Frazier had been alive he would have been president of ASA twenty years before. It would take more than four decades (twenty-eight years after Frazier’s death) for another black person to be elected president of the ASA (1990), William Wilson, who today holds one of the top twenty professorships at Harvard. But Wilson does not have the quality of national fame and charisma that Frazier had in his final days at Howard. Frazier was a giant any university would be proud to have, although I overheard a conversation in the summer of 1960 when a white chairman of a leading sociology department suggested hiring him away from Howard but another professor remarked snappily that he didn’t’ “think he’d be happy around here.”  I’m sure Frazier had a l.ot of critics and distractors around Howard, but the University felt blessed. Having spent several years in Paris, he always wore a beret, the only one on the campus, at Howard, like some of the graduate students at the University of Chicago in the 1950s and S.I. Hayakawa at San Francisco State in the 1960s.

Probably you were thinking of William Leo Hansberry, the popular Howard Africanist who allegedly got a lot of opposition and blocking of his advancement at Howard by Frazier, no less, other higher powers there whose identity is too vague to name at this time. It seems to have also been connected to the famous conflict between white anthropologist Melville Herskovits (The Myth of the Negro Past) -- who created the first African Studies (1947) and Afroamerican Studies (1957) programs in America -- and E. Franklin Frazier over the amount of African carryovers retained by the slaves and their progeny in America; with Herskovits taking the view more contemporaneous to the afrocentricity of black intellectuals today. Unfortunately Frazier almost got knocked out of polite black intellectual society by the anti-Moynihan anti-pathology strong-black-family mythology of the 1970s and early 1980s that dovetailed with the white feminist domination that emerged to obstruct inadvertently a forthright and uncompromising black intellectual focus on the prevention of black family decay as opposed to singing a song of African-oriented and derived black family strengths.

But in the late spring of 1962, when Frazier died, Howard was much in the press over who in the world could they get to replace him. Meanwhile, there was one of his students, G. Franklin Edwards, who had largely been responsible for getting me there on behalf of one of his colleagues at the University of Chicago, Otis Dudley Duncan, in which they presumed my continuing focus on demography to provide data for the lucrative consulting work Prof. Edwards did for high level government agencies there in Washington. Edwards would eventually tell me it was his idea to take “Negro” out of the census and to make Howard 60 per cent white, though it was said during a conversation in which he was angrily discouraging my open criticism of them.

While Edwards thought he should replace Frazier, Howard selected Daniel Thompson, a member of the New Orleans Creole elite from Dillard University who had just done a book that was getting a lot of media coverage, The Negro Leadership Class, as the best they could do to replace Frazier. But Edwards had enough pull (for one thing he was married to the daughter of one of the wealthiest black real estate tycoons in the city) to block the naming of Thompson as chairman, though Thompson came on to Howard as a professor, but at the end of the year he returned to Dillard, after which Edwards became chairman. I was telling you yesterday that Edwards and his friends had disliked The Black Anglo Saxons when it was published in 1965, but Frazier had praised the 1962 Negro Digest article by that name to his class in “The Negro in America“ (which required a small auditorium).

The years went on and I happened circa 1987 to write an article on the destruction of the black male child for the New Orleans Tribune, a local black monthly vying to be national. The New Orleans Tribune was published by a Creole physician who was vice president of the Board of Education (and like Thompson, also one of the nicest individuals you lever met) invited me to speak to an audience convened by the Board, after which they had me to a lunch, and there Daniel Thompson was the speaker and said kind things about me publicly but told me privately that if he had been chairman he would not have handled my case the way Edwards did and I wouldn’t have been fired by Howard.  Not knowing all the details or the background that developed after his departure from Howard, Thompson seemed to be talking about my involvement in the “black university uprising” in the spring to make Howard “relevant to the black community and its needs” that was fomented by me and the Black Power Committee --- a campus student coterie of the Philadelphia based RAM (Revolutionary Action Committee) -- that broke out in the winter and ensuing spring after Edwards refused to submit the letter mandated by his own handpicked departmental hiring and retention committee to give me tenure at Howard.

Frazier would probably have backed up our criticism of the distancing of Howard from the black community he seemed to have in mind when he spoke of the new Negro middle class’s frenzy to put social distance between itself and the lower strata of the black race foretold by him in Bourgeoisie Noir and so famously translated a year later as Black Bourgeoisie.


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