In 2004, the American Sociological Association gave the WSU sociology department its esteemed DuBois-Johnson-Frazier Award, noting that the department had produced more than two dozen African American doctoral degrees, many of whom went on to make major contributions in the field.

“The cumulative impact that this institution has had on shaping African American scholarship has been an absolutely monumental and a living tribute to the pioneering scholarship and social activism of W.E.B DuBois, Charles S. Johnson and E. Franklin Frazier,” the award said.

Charles U. Smith ’50, professor emeritus of sociology and former dean of the School of Graduate Studies at Florida A&M University, was the first African American to earn a WSU doctorate. In 2000, when he received his own DuBois-Johnson-Frazier Award, the association called him “a strong civil rights advocate whose writings on black protest, civil rights, the psychic costs of segregation, integration and segregation in the schools, and changing U.S. race relations have shaped our thinking and public policy.”

Anna Harvin Grant ’56 was the first woman to earn a doctorate in sociology from WSU. She went on to become a nationally recognized expert in black family life and the first department head at Morehouse College, where she spent 35 years. In her 2004 Atlanta Journal-Constitution obituary, her colleague Obie Clayton said she, “produced more black male sociologists than anyone else.”

James E. Blackwell. © Irving Johnson/
James E. Blackwell (© Irving Johnson/

As a freshly minted associate professor of sociology at San Jose State, James E. Blackwell ’59 ran the local NAACP chapter out of his home—no one would rent them an office. He increased the chapter’s membership five-fold while fighting employment discrimination and getting the city council to pass a fair housing ordinance. He went on to work for the Peace Corps and chair the University of Massachusetts-Boston Department of Sociology and Anthropology, where he tripled the number of faculty. In 1986, a study reported in Social Forces ranked Blackwell number five among black holders of doctorates in sociology, living or dead.

Edgar Epps ’59, now a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee School of Education, has had postings at the University of Chicago, Tuskegee University, the University of Michigan and Florida A&M. He has studied race, class, and educational opportunity, including desegregation in urban schools and the effects of vouchers, magnet schools, and charter schools on urban education.

The first African American graduate from the University of Arkansas, Gordon Morgan ’61 returned in 1969 to be one of the school’s first black professors. He is now a University Professor in the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice.

Franklin Wilson ’73 is an emeritus professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Bette Dickerson ’86 is an associate professor of sociology at American University and a past President of the Association of Black Sociologists.