In the early decades of the 20th century African American PhDs could generally find academic employment only in black colleges and universities like Howard, Morehouse, Fisk, Tuskegee, and Spelman. One exception to this was Julian Herman Lewis (PhD 1915). The first African American to earn a PhD in medicine, Lewis became an associate professor of pathology at the University of Chicago after completing his degree. But not until 1948 when Allison Davis (PhD anthropology, 1942) was tenured at the University of Chicago would non-black institutions begin regular hiring of African American faculty. The early black alumni of the University of Chicago therefore moved in a relatively small professional network and would collaborate with one another for the rest of their lives.

Most of them published at some point in Carter Woodson’s journals (The Journal of Negro History or The Negro History Bulletin) or with the press of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. In 1921 Charles Johnson (PhD Sociology, 1917; President of Fisk, 1946-56) founded another important journal Opportunity: A Journal of Negro Life, an organ of the National Urban League. The tables of contents of that journal repeatedly show Chicago alumni publishing side-by-side in the same issue.

Finally, these African American alumni frequently encouraged their own students at institutions like Howard and Tuskegee to go on to the University of Chicago for graduate school. Ernest Just, for instance, directed his student at Howard, Roger Arliner Young, to graduate study at the University of Chicago.

Roger Arliner Young to Frank R. Lillie

Manuscript letter, February 20, 1929
Frank R. Lillie Papers

Roger Arliner Young was a student of Ernest Just’s at Howard and he encouraged her to attend the University of Chicago, making introductions for her to scholars like Frank Lillie. Although Miss Young was not able to finish her degree at the University of Chicago, she finally earned a Ph.D. from Penn in 1940.

W.E.B. DuBois to Allison Davis

Typewritten letter, March 31, 1944
Allison Davis Papers

This letter describes a conference aimed specifically at bringing together African American doctorate holders in the social sciences. DuBois actively fostered networks among African American scholars.