Two History Professors Chronicle the Lives of the First Black Scholars Hired at PWIs

Earning their doctorates in the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s, Black scholars were slowly welcomed into White institutions where they then combined academia with activism.

Dr. David Canton, associate professor of history at Connecticut College, is working on a biography of Dr. Lawrence D. Reddick, which will focus on the mid-20th century when an increasing number of African Americans earned doctorates and entered the faculties at predominantly White colleges and universities (PWIs).

Dr. David Canton

Canton refers to Reddick and his contemporaries, including Dr. St. Clair Drake, Dr. W. Allison Davis, Dr. Ralph Bunche and Dr. Adelaide Cromwell, as the second generation of Black scholars. While the names of the first generation of Black professional scholars — Dr. W.E.B. DuBois, Dr. Carter G. Woodson and Dr. Charles H. Wesley — are well known and studied, this second generation often exists in the background. In fact, Dr. David A. Varel titled his biography of Davis, who was the first African American person to receive tenure at a PWI, The Lost Black Scholar.

“These phenomenal and often unsung scholars played a vital role in teaching Black history and helping to shape and mentor the subsequent generation of Black academics,” says Dr. Robert T. Palmer, department chair and associate professor of educational leadership and policy studies at Howard University. “I hope that we can be more intentional in making these and other Black pillars a household name.”


Canton says his research shows that, prior to 1930, 51 African Americans had earned Ph.Ds. Between 1930-43, more than 300 African Americans earned Ph.Ds. Among them was Reddick, who in 1937 wrote an article titled “A New Interpretation for Negro History,” in which he asked historians to approach African American history by combining social history with economics.

Most of these scholars taught at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs). In the 1940s

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