Pursuing Fieldwork in
African American Communities
Some Personal Reflections of Hylan Lewis
My first merry-go-round was a revolving bookcase at home. From a very early age I read most of what I could get my hands on. I voraciously read dime novels on American life. One series of early library withdrawals was by Henry Altshuler on American Indians. I also read my older sister's magazines, including True Stories. While in elementary school I sold and read Crisis and Opportunity. Charles S. Johnson edited the latter. In college I read W. E. B. Du Bois. His Souls of Black Folks (1902) left a lasting impression on me. Charles S. Johnson's Negro in American Civilization (1930) and his writings on the Negro in Chicago also influenced my early thinking. The content and examples of Charles Johnson's books were not all that was impressive to me: Johnson was also a graduate of Virginia Union, my alma mater. He was among other graduates of Virginia Union who established an important tradition that included Abram Harris (Sterling D. Spero and Harris, The Black Worker: A Study of the Negro and the Labor Movement ), Charles Thompson (founder and editor of the Journal of Negro Education), Chandler Owens (trade unionist and editor of Messenger), and Eugene Jones (influential head of the National Urban League). I was very lucky to have had a group of professor-mentors at Virginia Union; notable were Rayford Logan, Henry McGuinn, Arthur P. Davis, Elizabeth Johnson, and Joshua B. Simpson. They were forerunners of my graduate professor-mentors at the University of Chicago, who included Ernest Burgess, Everett Hughes, Louis Wirth, William Ogburn, Herbert Blumer, and Paul Douglas.
I grew up in Washington, D.C., during interesting times. There was a Negro community that included a large complement of professionals and many government workers. Many of these residents were very diligent in defending black rights. One of the more important institutions was Dunbar High School. It was a jewel of the community; its faculty could have