St. Clair Drake (1911-1990) - Professor of Sociology and Anthropolgy, 1946-1968
The following profile was written by RU Professor Frank Untermyer, a personal friend of Drake’s, for the Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History:
Sociologist St. Clair Drake was born in Suffolk, Virginia, where his father was a Baptist pastor in small rural parishes. Although Drake knew his father only during his first thirteen years, the elder Drake had a decisive influence on his son's later development. John Gibbs St. Clair Drake had been born in Barbados but studied for the Baptist ministry in Lynchburg, Virginia. During World War I, Reverend Drake followed his congregation to Pittsburgh, where many had migrated to work in the steel mills.
In Pittsburgh the family lived in a "middle class" house, with access to a well-stocked library. There Drake formed his habit of wide reading on many subjects. He attended a school where he was the only African-American child, and listened, fascinated, to discussions of religion and race between his father and other preachers.
His parents were divorced in 1924, and Drake accompanied his mother back to Virginia. He attended Booker T. Washington High School in Staunton, Virginia, where he had his first encounters with southern segregation.
From 1927 through 1931 Drake attended Hampton Institute in Virginia, where he was an outstanding student. Central to his subsequent career was the influence of a young professor, W. Allison Davis, who introduced him to anthropology. After graduating, Drake taught high school in rural Virginia, traveling to Philadelphia every summer and investing his small earnings in a few books on anthropology. During those summers he worked and studied with the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker organization.
In the summer of 1931 Drake demonstrated the quiet courage that remained characteristic of him. Some of the Friends initiated a "peace caravan," and Drake and his friend, Enoch Waters, traveled with it through the South, attempting to win support for disarmament and international cooperation. Remarkably, the trek did not terminate in disaster.
In 1935, while still teaching in Virginia, Drake became a member of a research team that was making a social survey of a Mississippi town. Davis had questioned whether the ideas of the white anthropologist W. Lloyd Warner concerning class and caste were applicable to blacks and whites in the South. The outcome was Drake's earliest published research, which was incorporated into Davis's Deep South. Working with senior anthropologists, Drake conducted much of the research and prepared the manuscript for publication. After Deep South, Drake's closeness to those whom he studied caused him always to describe himself as a "participant-observer."
In 1937 Drake entered the University of Chicago on a Rosenwald Fellowship for further studies in anthropology. Intermittently, he continued to study there over the next fifteen years. In 1942 he married Elizabeth Johns, a white sociologist. Black Metropolis, his best-known work, appeared in 1945. Coauthored with Horace Cayton, it is a path breaking work of description and analysis of African-American life in Chicago.
In 1946 Drake joined the faculty of the newly established Roosevelt College (later University) in Chicago, where he remained until 1968. This college had been created as a protest against the racially restrictive Central YMCA College, its predecessor.
Drake was increasingly interested in Africa and the African Diaspora. His doctoral dissertation for the University of Chicago, "Value Systems, Social Structure, and Race Relations in the British Isles," involved one year of research of the "colored" community of Cardiff, Wales, placing that community into the larger context of Africa and the South Atlantic. During that year in Britain, Drake became a close associate of George Padmore, the West Indian Pan-Africanist and adviser to Kwame Nkrumah. After Ghana's independence, from 1958 to 1961, Drake became professor of sociology at the University of Ghana, while still holding his professorship at Roosevelt University.
In 1969 Drake accepted a long-standing invitation to become professor of sociology and anthropology and director of African and Afro-American Studies at Stanford University in California. The Stanford period was most notable for the publication of the vast and erudite Black Folk Here and There (two volumes, 1987–1990). Using an enormous array of sources, it presents the thesis that prejudice against blacks is a relatively recent phenomenon, arising first during the Hellenistic period.