Anthony M. Platt, E. Franklin Frazier Reconsidered

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Anthony M. Platt, E. Franklin Frazier Reconsidered

In his timely biography of E. Franklin Frazier, Anthony M. Platt, a professor of social work at California State University at Sacramento, has attempted to challenge two contradictory myths which have been created by intellectuals since the distinguished American scholar's death in 1962. The first tale, which according to Platt, is told mainly by progressives, "derives from his posthumous association with The Negro Family: The Case for National Action." The progressives accept "at face value the derisive nomination of Frazier as father of the Moynihan Report." (p. 1) The second tale, told mainly by respected academicians, raises Frazier to "sainthood." Its narrators "return to Frazier's graduate training in Chicago but, unlike his detractors, commemorate him as a loyal and capable disciple of Robert Park and other white academics who were generous enough to recruit Afro-American students despite the prevalence of racism in academia." (p. 2) Platt draws on numerous archival sources; memories and files of Frazier's colleagues, acquaintances, and friends; and the heretofore undisclosed FBI and Department of State files on Frazier to reveal the complexity of and contradictions in the sociologist's life and work. Platt invites his readers to consider Frazier "as somebody who tried...`to provide answers to important questions' about the persistence of racism and social inequality." (p. 7)

Although Platt's work will not be considered the definitive biography of Frazier, it is nevertheless a work with numerous strengths. Platt is adept in depicting some of the contradictions that characterize the "Enfant Terrible's" life. For example, he points out that when Frazier turned thirty-four both of his parents and his sister were dead; Frazier had cut himself off from his brother; and Frazier's wife had "found out that she could not bear children." "E. Franklin," Platt concludes, "who devoted many years to studying the Afro-American family spent his own adult life outside the conventions of a traditional or extended nuclear family. Perhaps his father's emphasis on the importance of being a self-made man also stamped Edward with the character of a loner, a person who valued independence almost to the point of isolation." (p. 14) Furthermore, Frazier, who challenged Melville J. Herskovits' thesis that West African customs "played a decisive role in the development of Afro-American culture" "claimed that he was of Ibo descent and he was very proud of it. …