Two weeks ago, I became president of the DC Sociological Society. I had been wondering for a while why the DCSS had been founded in 1934 and what it was like at earlier times. So, I went to look at the papers of one of the founders and early presidents (1943-1944) of the DCSS, E. Franklin Frazier. Frazier was a sociology professor at Howard University and went on to be the first African American president of the American Sociological Association. He was one of the most important sociologists in the United States and likely around the world.
It was pretty exciting in the Howard University archives because fellow sociologist and world-renowned expert on international Black Power, Michael O. West, was there reading the Kwame Nkrumah papers. We talked a bit about E. Franklin Frazier, who worked with many international organizations, such as UNESCO, the African Studies Association, and the Council on African Affairs.
E. Franklin Frazier left two files of documents about the DCSS, which were primarily the agendas of the monthly meetings and the membership directories from the 1950s.(1) In the early 1950s, DCSS had around 200-275 members. Membership was $1. Dues were raised to $2 by 1960 ($1 for students). Paying your dues allowed you could vote in the DCSS elections. In general, the monthly meetings took place at different universities or government locations, such as the executive dining room at the US Department of Agriculture. At a meeting on March 30, 1961, current member Melvin L. Kohn (then National Institute of Mental Health, later Johns Hopkins U.) with Forest Linder (Public Health Service) presented “Reports on Some Current Research on Health” at Gallaudet.
From the agendas, it is clear that the DCSS was quite influential in government. During World War II and afterwards, governments around the world used sociology to manage populations and maintain social order. Sociologists worked hard at “obtaining a place for sociology at the federal feeding trough,” which led to massive involvement of military funders, in particular, in sociology and the movement of sociologists between government and university positions.(2) At the April 23, 1952 meeting, Paul M. Linebarger (Army Colonel, SAIS professor) gave the following talk: “Opportunities for Sociologists in Far Eastern Strategy: A Statement of the Need for Socio-Cultural Planning for Psychological Warfare."
In presenting the charter, Professor Burgess observed that in many respects the Washington Chapter was national in character, and he issued a charge to the membership to perform the unique functions in stimulating and guiding sociological research which such a chapter might perform. Dr. Stuart A. Rice responded to the charge by reviewing the sociological functions of a number of federal departments and agencies. Professor Burgess was elected an honorary charter member by the forty-two charter members present.
The meeting was opened by Professor D. W. Willard of George Washington University, under whose leadership as president pro tem the chapter was organized. He introduced the president, Dr. Stuart A. Rice, Assistant Director of the Census, who introduced in turn the following officers: vice-president, Professor D. W. Willard; secretary-treasurer, Frederick F. Stephan of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration; and elected members of the Executive Committee, Elwood Street, Director of Public Welfare of the District of Columbia and Dr. Emma Winslow of the Children’s Bureau. The President also announced the appointment of a Program Committee with Dr. E. D. Tetreau of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration as Chairman and a Committee on Research with Dr. Joseph Mayer of the Library of Congress as Chairman. Greetings to the new chapter were read from Jerome Davis, H. P. Fairchild, H. W. Odum, W. F. Ogburn, N. L. Sims, C. A. Ellwood, R. E. Park, James Q. Dealey, E. S. Bogardus, E. A. Ross, W. I. Thomas, H. A. Miller, and Geo. E. Vincent.
Source: “News and Notes” of the American Journal of Sociology 40(3)(1934): 370-371.
The objectives of the Society are to promote sociological research, education and discussion, to facilitate cooperative exchanges among persons and organizations engaged in sociological research and teaching, to encourage young sociologists and students, and to increase the contribution of sociology to human welfare.
So, in the 1950s, Washington, DC, was THE place to be a sociologist. At the same time, E. Franklin Frazier and others criticized the direction that sociology was taking, which led to new directions in sociology by the 1960s. In 1953, the journal Social Problems also devoted an issue to “Challenges to the Freedom of Social Scientists,” which criticized sociologists’ dependence on government and especially military projects and their lack of professional autonomy. One of the articles referred specifically to Paul M. Linebarger’s work on psychological warfare. At a dinner meeting on October 21, 1960, DCSS met at Caruso’s for cocktails, dinner, and a presentation by Phillip M. Hauser of the University of Chicago on “Lao Tze, Confucius, and the Presidential Election – Social Morphology as a Clue to Contemporary Politics” before the televised presidential debate at 10pm. Given that DC was a center for international Black Power and the civil rights movement, I hypothesize that Washington, DC, was THE place to a sociologist very different from those with US military funding.
Each May, The DCSS held an annual research institute or symposium. At these events, graduate students finishing their MA theses or their PhD dissertations presented their work. By the 1970s, DCSS had annual meetings that would last one to three days, which included faculty and other professional sociologists’ presentations. Here is the 1957 program for annual symposium:
Yes, probably the most famous sociologist of the 1950s, Talcott Parsons, gave the luncheon address. Most sociologists today do not follow in the tradition of Parsons, but at the time he was quite a guest to have.Who would you invite to DCSS events today? What should DCSS become today?
Works Cited(1) Howard University Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, E. Franklin Frazier papers, Box 131-30, Files 20 and 21 “District of Columbia Sociological Society.”(2) George Steinmetz, “American Sociology before and after World War II,” p. 343-344.
E. FRANKLIN FRAZIER
AND the DCSS
By Johanna Bockman,
2014-2016 DCSS President
In 1934, E. Franklin Frazier
moved to Howard University
and helped found the DCSS.
Frazier was a founding
member of the D.C. Sociological Society, serving as President of DCSS in 1943-44. Frazier also served as President of the Eastern Sociological Society in 1944-45. In 1948, Frazier was the first black to serve as President of the American Sociological Society (later renamed Association). His Presidential Address “Race Contacts and the Social Structure,” was presented at the organization’s annual meeting in Chicago in December 1948.
Reported in “News and Notes” of the American Journal of Sociology in 1934: