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The Funding of Scientific Racism: Wickliffe Draper and the Pioneer Fund (review)

From: Bulletin of the History of Medicine
Volume 77, Number 4, Winter 2003
pp. 972-974 | 10.1353/bhm.2003.0186

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Bulletin of the History of Medicine 77.4 (2003) 972-974

William H. Tucker. The Funding of Scientific Racism: Wickliffe Draper and the Pioneer Fund. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2002. x + 286 pp. $34.95 (0-252-02762-0).

In this exhaustively researched and measured history, psychologist William Tucker traces the history of the Pioneer Fund from its founding in 1937 by textile magnate "Colonel" Wickliffe Draper to its controversial present. The circumstances of the foundation's creation, the identities of its grantees, and the nature of its sponsored projects and ultimate aims have all been veiled in secrecy, although historian Barry Mehler and a number of journalists have exposed some of Pioneer's activities. Media attention peaked in the aftermath of the publication of Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray's The Bell Curve (1994), which drew heavily on fund-supported research by Arthur Jensen, Richard Lynn, and J. Philippe Rushton (who was appointed president of the Fund in March 2002). Critics have charged that, from its inception, Pioneer pursued a racist/eugenicist agenda, and they view its more recent support of work in behavioral genetics as a continuation of this aim. In response, Pioneer's defenders have insisted that the organization has always been and remains nonpolitical. They argue that Pioneer has a right to be proud of its role in funding scientifically excellent research on individual and group differences in mentality, temperament, and behavior, subjects tabooed as too controversial by mainstream funding sources.

Tucker set himself the task of determining who is right. Author of The Science and Politics of Racial Research (1994), he was well equipped for the daunting tasks of researching an organization that has taken extreme measures to conceal its activities, and of evaluating the evidence in historical context. There is nothing histrionic about his approach. Although he is hardly detached, he keeps moralizing to a minimum, and wisely lets the evidence, gathered from many archives as well as interviews and published materials, speak for itself. Because he is so obviously determined to be both thorough and fair—noting that not all Pioneer grantees necessarily share the Fund's larger agenda, and condemning efforts to harass grantees or bar them from obtaining support from Pioneer—Tucker's damning judgment is all the more persuasive. After reading the book, it would be hard to argue with his conclusion that the Fund's directors have pursued an antiblack and also anti-Semitic agenda—which included support for Earnest Sevier Cox's proposal to repatriate blacks to Africa (paying to distribute of hundreds of copies of Cox's 1923 polemic White America to members of Congress and Southern state legislators), and opposition to Brown vs the Board of Education and civil rights legislation—and in general have promoted academic efforts to prove the intellectual inferiority of blacks and to warn of the dangers of miscegenation.

The book makes for stomach-churning reading, and not every reader will require all the gruesome details. Those for whom an overview of this sordid history would suffice might read Michael Kenny's "Toward a Racial Abyss: Eugenics, Wickliffe Draper, and the Origins of the Pioneer Fund," which appeared almost simultaneously and reaches similar conclusions.

Tucker gives us a straightforward compilation of the evidence. (A bibliography would have been very helpful.) He does not strive to theorize, nor to forge many connections with the existing literature on the history of eugenics. But he has performed a valuable service, to both scholars and future journalists, in amassing evidence of Pioneer's activities and exposing the myriad ways in which its directors have obscured the organization's role as the primary source of funding for studies directed at proving the genetic inferiority of African Americans. After Tucker's exhaustive research, there can be no reason to doubt whose version of Pioneer's history is correct.


Diane Paul
University of Massachusetts at Boston

Footnote

1. Michael Kenny, "Toward a Racial Abyss: Eugenics, Wickliffe Draper, and the Origins of the Pioneer Fund," J. Hist. Behav. Sci., 2002, 38: 259-;83. ...