Academic journal article Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society

Conflict and Continuity: E. Franklin Frazier, Oliver C. Cox and the Chicago School of Sociology

Academic journal article Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society

Conflict and Continuity: E. Franklin Frazier, Oliver C. Cox and the Chicago School of Sociology

Article excerpt

This essay is an examination of the work and theoretical approaches of E. Franklin Frazier and Oliver C. Cox, two University of Chicago trained sociologists who were contemporaries. Frazier and Cox make for an interesting comparison because they shared certain academic and personal experiences which revealed themselves in very different ways in the work of each figure. Cox and Frazier were both openly to the left on the political spectrum and acknowledged the influence of Marxist dialectical analysis. They both engaged the dominant construct of African American sociology that was developed at the University of Chicago in the early twentieth century: race relations. Despite these similarities, these men represented interesting contrasts within their discipline. Although both were outspoken opponents of racism, Frazier managed to reach the heights of academic respectability and acceptance while Cox has remained a much more marginal and under studied scholar. The major difference in the scholarly stature of these two important figures can be attributed to their divergent approaches to the paradigms accepted by established scholars in their field. Cox directly challenged these paradigms, while Frazier's approach was more oblique. Still both passed through the University of Chicago and acknowledged its influence on their work. The Chicago School of sociology like the University of Chicago itself, was a product of the great changes occurring in the United States at the turn of the century. The Chicago School can be seen primarily as an attempt by the established forces of American society to come to terms with the twin phenomena of urbanization and immigration that were sweeping the northern, industrial regions of the United States. As many authors have stated, the Chicago School saw its essential task as facilitating and documenting the Americanization of foreign and rural elements in the new urban frontiers of America.1 Americanization, for the purposes of this paper, is defined as an acceptance of the basic values of the dominant classes of the United States: reification of private property and private enterprise; the acceptance of an essentially white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) popular culture; and viewing electoral politics as the primary means of political change.

The figure of the Chicago School who had the greatest impact on African American sociologists was Robert Park. Park was a singular figure in the academic environment of Chicago. Born in 1864, he did not become an academic until he was almost fifty. He had spent much of his life working as a journalist, and was active in various progressive causes like the Congo Reform Association earlier in his career. As for his interest in African Americans, the crucial event in his life was his tenure as the press secretary of Booker T. Washington. Robert Park went to Tuskegee to work for Washington in 1905. This was a difficult time for African Americans, especially in the South. Jim Crow was being codified and lynching had reached epidemic proportions. Park, who had spent his entire life outside the South, was immediately struck by the sheer terror that shadowed the lives of African Americans. If anything the gravity of the situation that Park found impressed upon him the importance of his work for Washington. Park's job in Tuskegee revolved around planting favorable stories for Washington and Tuskegee, ghost writing speeches and articles for Washington, and arranging meetings between Washington and prominent whites from both the South and North.2

Because Park worked so closely with Washington, he was able to learn a great deal about the vocational approach to education that Washington stressed. Park approved of Washington's approach, not because he felt that African Americans were unsuited to more traditional academic work but because such training seemed reasonable given the severe constraints faced by blacks of that era. Fred Matthews in Quest for an American Sociology: Robert Park and the Chicago School suggests that Park's favorable reading of the Tuskegee philosophy also showed the influence of John Dewey, a professor of Park's at the University of Michigan who stressed material practicality in lessons. …

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