- Unsung Hero: Monroe Nathan Work (Theologian, Social Scientist, and Crusader for Social Justice and Civil Rights)
Monroe Nathan Work may not be known by name, but the fruits of his labor are widely known to all through the writings of Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois, where his voice resonates in a distinct and profound manner. Monroe Work was part clergymen, part social scientist, and part activist. He created a mosaic of the Negro, both nationally and internationally, and challenged the conscience of a nation.1–3
Monroe Nathan Work trained at the Chicago Theological Seminary to become a preacher, where he became immersed in Sociology through a course taught by Graham Taylor entitled Christian Sociology. As part of that course, Work started a study of the Negro and Crime, which eventually became his first publication and the first article published by a Negro in the Journal of Sociology in 1900. Work graduated from the University of Chicago in 1903 and became the first Negro with a Masters degree in Sociology.1–3
Monroe Work began his career as a social scientist during one of the most tumultuous times, with racism rampant and deeply rooted in the prevailing theories of the day. In Work’s own discipline, he found that many White sociologists prior to World War I held that the Negro was biologically inferior to Caucasians. The social and academic environment propelled many Negro social scientists out of the mainstream of their academic discourse as they sought through scientific means to challenge and disprove the theories of racial inferiority of the Negro.1–3
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Work’s need to provide concrete evidence of the Negro’s humanity prompted him to pursue a specialization in sociology. Monroe Work utilized the fact-finding tools employed by sociologists to refute the claims of Negro inferiority. It was this same need that later prompted Work to accept a position as a teacher in education and history at Georgia State Industrial College in Savannah and finally to assume the position of Director of Records and Research at Tuskegee Institute.1–3 [End Page 3]
According to Monroe Work himself, his most significant accomplishments were: 1) the Negro Yearbook; 2) Tuskegee Lynching Records; 3) The Bibliography of the Negro in Africa and America; and 4) National Negro Health Week.
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• Negro Yearbook. The answering of inquiries about the Negro, which came to Tuskegee from all parts of the world, became an important aspect of the work of the Department of Records and Research. I kept the recipes to all questions received. On the basis of these replies there was published in 1912 the first Negro Year Book, a compilation of facts relating to the Negro. Almost immediately the Negro Year Book became a standard reference on all matters pertaining to the race. Its circulation in the course of time became world-wide.
• The Tuskegee Lynching Records. As early as 1900, I began to collect lynching records. With the facilities afforded by the department of Research and Records I was able to begin to compile in a systemic manner data on lynching. The first report on lynching was sent out in 1913. . . . The Tuskegee record became the authoritative source for the South and the nation of information concerning lynching.
• A bibliography of the Negro in Africa and America. The compiling of this Bibliography extended over a period of more than 20 years. Work on it was first begun in my university days in connection with a study of Africa to assist in which references on the subject were collected. It has gone to libraries throughout the world.
• National Negro Health Week. When I came to Tuskegee Institute I promoted conferences on Negro health conditions. Beginning in 1909 I was able to have several sessions of the welfare section of the annual Tuskegee Negro Conference devoted to health. I worked on a series of charts to graphically illustrate the Negro’s health conditions. I was able to present in a complete form these charts at the 1914 session of the annual Tuskegee Negro Conference. . . . Largely as...