Academic journal article Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare

"Won't Be Weighted Down:" Richard R. Wright, Jr.'s Contributions to Social Work and Social Welfare

Academic journal article Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare

"Won't Be Weighted Down:" Richard R. Wright, Jr.'s Contributions to Social Work and Social Welfare

Article excerpt

African-American scholars, intellectuals, and social work practitioners made significant contributions to American thought and life during the Progressive Era. Unfortunately, their work is often overlooked by history. This paper explores the contributions of Richard R. Wright, Jr., an African-American, sociologist, social worker, and minister. His voice has rarely been heard beyond the walls of the African Methodist Episcopal Church; however, his contributions to sociology, social welfare, and the church serve as a model of integration for scholars, social workers, and ministers. Wrights example is particularly valuable as policy makers and the public look to organized religion for solutions to social problems.

Key words: Richard R. Wright, Jr., African American scholars, Progressive Era, Religion, Faith


The Progressive Era was a time of significant upheaval and change in the U.S. There was great industrialization, immigration, and prosperity; however, many people were struggling to survive while corporate leaders amassed vast fortunes. In midst of the turmoil, new voices emerged challenging the inequities that came with industrialization and urbanization. Many African-Americans made key social and intellectutal contributions during the Progressive Era; unfortunately, their work has been lost or overlooked. This paper will attempt to recover the voice of Richard R. Wright, Jr. an African American progressive scholar, social worker, and pastor.

Wright methodically engaged the social issues of his day. His actions were deeply rooted in his theological and sociological training. Wright provided hope to the masses through his work with the African Methodist Episcopal Church. He helped thousands of Southern migrants to Philadelphia secure employment, develop businesses, invest in their community, and own homes. His scholarly work shed much light on a variety of sociological and economic issues as a researcher and academic. He worked to systematically dismantle the myths surrounding African Americans. At the close of his life in an interview with the Detriot Free Press, Wright said, "There will always be differences in people, but they won't be weighted down by myths," (Anderson, 1963). Richard R. Wright, Jr. left a legacy of empowerment and systematic engagement. His life provides a valuable example for sociologists, social workers, and ministers as we seek to find ways to engage contemporary social and political issues.

Shaping Influences

Richard R. Wright, Jr. is the product of his family, his education, and his faith. His passion for excellence, his love of education, and commitment to the betterment of his people can be traced to his parents. Wright's approach to social issues and the world is heavily influenced by his education and his thirst for justice and righteousness is tied to his faith.


Richard R. Wright, Jr. was born April 16, 1878 to an extraordinary family in Cuthbert, Georgia. Richard was the first child of Richard R. Wright, Sr. and Lydia Howard Wright, who both attended Atlanta University and taught in Cuthbert (Fleming, 1950; Haynes, 1952; Wright, 1965).

Little is known about the Howards, Richard's mother's family, but what we do know sheds great light on his heritage. Lydia was the fifth daughter in the Howard family. Her father had earned his freedom from slavery and owned a successful livery and blacksmith business in Columbus, Georgia (Wright, 1965; Haynes, 1952). Her mother could read and write and taught many other freedmen these skills upon emancipation. The Howards valued education, and they secured the best possible training for their children. Lydia was very successful at Atlanta University; however, she did not graduate, marrying Richard R. Wright, Sr. after her junior year (Haynes, 1952). The success of Lydia's parents made a profound impression on her son Richard R. Wright, Jr, who noted, "both . …

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