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In Search of the Talented Tenth

Howard University Public Intellectuals and the Dilemmas of Race, 1926-1970

Zachery R. Williams

Publication Year: 2010

From the 1920s through the 1970s, Howard University was home to America’s most renowned assemblage of black scholars. This book traces some of the personal and professional activities of this community of public intellectuals, demonstrating their scholar-activist nature and the myriad ways they influenced modern African American, African, and Africana policy studies.



            In Search of the Talented Tenth tells how individuals like Rayford Logan, E. Franklin Frazier, John Hope Franklin, Merze Tate, Charles Wesley, and Dorothy Porter left an indelible imprint on academia and black communities alike through their impact on civil rights, anticolonialism, and women’s rights. Zachery Williams explores W. E. B. Du Bois’s Talented Tenth by describing the role of public intellectuals from the Harlem Renaissance to the Black Power movement, in times as trying as the Jim Crow and Cold War eras.



Williams first describes how the years 1890 to 1926 laid the foundation for Howard’s emergence as the “capstone of Negro education” during the administration of university president Mordecai Johnson. He offers a wide-ranging discussion of how the African American community of Washington, D.C., contributed to the dynamism and intellectual life of the university, and he delineates the ties that linked many faculty members to one another in ways that energized their intellectual growth and productivity as scholars. He also discusses the interaction of Howard’s intellectual community with those of the West Indies, Africa, and other places, showing the international impact of Howard’s intellectuals and the ways in which black and brown elites outside the United States stimulated the thought and scholarship of the Howard intellectuals.



            In Search of the Talented Tenth marks the first in-depth study of the intellectual activity of this community of scholars and further attests to the historic role of women faculty in shaping the university. It testifies to the impact of this group as a model against which the twenty-first century’s black public intellectuals can be measured. 

Published by: University of Missouri Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xiv

I have to thank for their support, encouragement, and generosity over the six years I have labored to complete this work. There are not enough pages to offer proper thanks, and if I omit anyone’s name, please chalk it up to my head and not my heart. First, I would like to thank God for sustaining me in good times and bad, as this project moved from stage ...

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pp. 1-10

At the center of this study is the formation of one prominent— perhaps the most active and influential—African American intellectual community, one that originated and operated in the era of racial segregation. From 1926 to 1970, Howard University in Washington, D.C., represented the center of black intellectual life, and its scholars...

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1. Prelude to Community: Foundations of the Howard University Intellectual Community, 1890–1926

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pp. 11-39

The years from 1890 to 1929 saw the emergence of Howard University as the “Capstone of Negro Education,” although as author Walter Dyson notes, Howard held that designation only from 1904 onward. Jonathan Holloway suggests it is more than likely that Howard was the Capstone in name only, and it was not until the administration of...

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2. Messiah and Leader: Mordecai Johnson and the Making of the Howard University Intellectual Community, 1926–1960

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pp. 40-69

In many ways, Mordecai Johnson’s reputation for sound character, good judgment, and strong belief in social justice preceded him, and it was this that made him seem attractive and well suited to become the first African American president in Howard’s history. Johnson had a great vision for what Howard could become. From the start, he envisioned ...


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pp. 70-79

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3. Howard University Intellectuals and the Development of Community in Academia

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pp. 80-125

Prior studies of Howard University intellectuals have focused either on individuals or on small groups of three or so. These scholar activists are indeed interesting, when taken as individuals, but a collective examination, even if difficult, is useful in showing how Howard University became one of the preeminent intellectual communities of its...

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4. Public Intellectuals and the Black Public Sphere at Howard

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pp. 126-156

The black public intellectual is not a recent phenomenon. A public intellectual is in many ways both a scholar and an activist, but a black public intellectual is an altogether different creation. Black intellectuals by their very nature either are forced or choose to be both scholars and activists, and they embrace a synthesis of the two, so ...

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5. Bridging Theory and Practice: Africana Policy Studies and Black Studies Institutes

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pp. 157-188

Howard University functioned as a prototypical black studies institute. Howard public intellectuals contributed research in various areas of Negro, early Africana, and African studies, including the nascent field of Africana policy studies, developed by the group Michael Winston characterizes as “the policy research nucleus.” Their...

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pp. 189-200

On January 9, 2002, the Washington Post published an article by columnist Courtland Milloy entitled “D.C. Should Find Ways to Attract Black Scholars.” In this piece, Milloy spoke of the controversy involving several members of Harvard’s Dream Team, including renowned black studies professors Cornel West and Henry Louis Gates Jr., who were leaving for Princeton and other universities due to a heated...


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pp. 201-224

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 225-234


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pp. 235-250

Back Cover

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p. BC-BC

E-ISBN-13: 9780826272041
E-ISBN-10: 0826272045
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826218629
Print-ISBN-10: 0826218628

Page Count: 264
Illustrations: 25 illus, tables
Publication Year: 2010

Edition: 1