Segregation, Poverty, and Mortality in Urban African Americans

By Anthony P. Polednak | Go to book overview

1
Introduction: Purpose and Plan

Sociology and Epidemiology. An Interface

Sociology and American Institutions

Sociology is concerned with the development of various social institutions. The British historian and economist R.H. Tawney noted that "every generation regards as natural the institutions to which it is accustomed." In the history of blacks in America, the relevant institutions are slavery (the South's selfproclaimed "peculiar institution"), postemancipation legalized segregation, and post-civil-rights-era de facto segregation. The archaeologist V.G. Childe ( 1892-1957), who traced the prehistoric record of human social-technological "revolutions" (including the "urban revolution"), observed that social traditions are shaped by individuals and communities, and the "institutions of oppression" are "not fixed and immutable" ( Childe, 1951).

D.L. Lewis began his Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of black sociologist W.E.B. Du Bois ( 1868-1963) with an account of the August 1963 civil rights march on Washington, during which the announcement of the death of Du Bois (the "old man") was made to the audience of more than 250,000. Du Bois died in Ghana, not while on a visit but as a citizen and resident for several years after abandoning hope for social and economic equality for blacks in America. During Du Bois' life, many changes had occurred in American institutions that affected blacks. Born 5 years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued, he absorbed much of the experience of slavery from the memories of its survivors. The first African American to receive a Harvard doctorate, a founder of the NAACP, and "the premier architect of the civil rights movement in the United States" ( Lewis, 1993), Du Bois wrote extensively on the slave trade, slave culture, and the persisting detrimental influences of slavery on blacks. Du Bois lived until the advent, albeit not the culmination, of the civil rights era of the 1960s.

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