Sources on St. Clair Drake

Since so many readers were interested in Faye Harrison’s piece here on SM and Karen Brodkin’s challenge to Boas’s supremacy as the exemplar of anti-racist anthropology I thought I would provide a quick walkthrough of some aspects of this alternate canon in anthropology — what Harrison has called the ‘DuBoisian’ stream in the history of anthropology (there is a whole special issue of Critique of Anthropology on this topic).

There are many sources to learn about this stream of thought. Leith Mullings 2013 AAA Presidential address is a good starting place. Over a year ago I asked the AAA if we could transcribe it and throw it up on SM but they said no because they wanted to publish it, which has not happened yet (or perhaps I missed it). So for now even the text-inclined will have to go to YouTube (hey, at least it’s open access). Another source is Harrison’s own African-American Pioneers in Anthropology (the shortcut version of this book is the ABA’s ‘pioneers’ page).

In truth one might wonder why we could call this an ‘alternate canon’? After all, how can a presidential address be ‘alternate’? The answer has a lot do with who and where has the money to train the next generation of graduate students. But rather than try to go over this whole history, which I know so little about, I thought I would try to focus on a single figure: St. Clair Drake.

The wikipedia entry on Drake is gives a good overview of his work: His work on two key pieces of anthropology, Black Metropolis and Deep South (both collaborative projects), his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, and his time as a professor at Roosevelt (in Chicago) and then Stanford. For many people, he is a foundational figure in black/afro-descended anthropology.

If you’d like to learn more, perhaps the best place to go is his trio of autobiographical articles “Anthropology and the Black Experience“, “Reflections on Anthropology and the Black Experience” (maybe the most accessible of the three?) and “Further Reflections on Anthropology and the Black Experience“. This last piece is part of one of the early issues of Transforming Anthropology (the journal of the Association of Black Anthropologists, which is part of the AAA) which has a special section of Drake — all of the articles in it are worth reading.

The French, for various reasons, latched on the urban anthropology and sociology early on, but could not take it’s cultural context for granted. As a result there is a lot of good intellectual history of this topic in French (work on Goffman, Robert Park and the Chicago school, etc). This includes an excellent and accessible article on the amazing “Making Of Black Metropolis“. The Chicago Reader (the local listings mag) also has a contemporary review of Black Metropolis.

Jerry Gershenhorn, who made his name doing work on Melville Herskovits, has recently started working on African-American scholars, including St. Clair Drake. Check out Gershenhorn’s faculty page for publications. To be frank, Drake is far more compelling, personally, than Melville Herskovits.

There is also a variety of Drake’s work available open access on the web —  though, IANAL, I have no idea how it got there. This biggest one is, of course, That site’s webibliography has a great selection of key texts about and by Drake, and many of them are available for download and very juicy, such as The American Dream and The Negro: One Hundred Years of Freedom? But there are other sources as well. If you really want to wonk out, has a copy of Drake’s 300+ page report Churches and Voluntary Associations in the Chicago Negro Community from 1940.

It would be wrong to think of Drake as just an anthropologist — he was a sociologist and founder of African-American studies as well. and it would be wrong to think of his work as somehow only of interest to people interested in black people. As his loose disciplinary affiliation suggests, Drake was hardly parochial. In fact, he was part of something much larger: The activist, bohemian and intellectual realm which was the context of anthropology’s crystallization. Anyone interested in the history of our discipline — or in challenging our disciplinarity! — needs to reckon with St. Clair Drake as an important figure.

But I really don’t think I’m an expert in this field, so I’d love to see any additional links or resources pop up in the comments.


Alex Golub is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. His book Leviathans at The Gold Mine has been published by Duke University Press. You can contact him at

One thought on “Sources on St. Clair Drake

  1. Rex, thanks. Having read this post, I found myself this morning hanging out at home waiting for the craftsmen who were installing a new screen door for us. Followed your link and listened to Leith Mullings 2013 AAA Presidential address. I found a lot to like in it, and not just the clear call for anthropology to contribute to social justice. Knowing me, you won’t find it surprising that I smiled as she repeatedly underlined the importance of “anthropology’s comparative and historical perspective,” defended a scientific perspective and damned with faint praise the contributions of postmodernism, multiculturalism, and diversity advocates. Her concluding with the Observatories network created following the Sucre incident and the African-American graveyard in NY City perfectly capped the perspective she was advocating.

    I took similar pleasure just now in reading the Chicago Reader review of Black Metropolis with its praise for the authors’ scientific perspective and rich descriptions free of theoretical cant and jargon.

    Thanks for pulling this all together.

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