Fauset, Arthur Huff

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Arthur Huff Fauset

Anthropologist, educator

Arthur Huff Fauset was the fourth known African American to receive the Ph.D. in anthropology. His dissertation, Black Gods of the Metropolis: Negro Religious Cults of the Urban North, was first published in 1944. As a young man, he won prizes in the Urban League's Opportunity contests. He also wrote books and articles in the areas of folklore and history. He had a long career as a school principal in Philadelphia, during which time he fought for better working conditions for teachers, as well as for civil rights for blacks and other disadvantaged people.

Arthur Huff Fauset was born on January 20, 1899, in Flemington, New Jersey. His parents were Redmon and Bella Huff Fauset. Redmon Fauset was a widower with seven children when he married Bella Huff, who already had three children from her previous marriage. The couple then had three children of their own, two boys and a girl. Arthur was the second of the three.

Arthur was the half-brother of Jessie Redmon Fauset (1882–1961), the youngest child of Redmon Fauset's previous marriage. Jessie Fauset, the first known black woman to be elected to Phi Beta Kappa, was a major figure in the Harlem Renaissance both as a literary editor of the NAACP's influential magazine The Crisis and through her creative writing.

The Fauset family was well-established in the Philadelphia area, having lived there since the eighteenth century. Redmon was an African Methodist Episcopal minister who did not have extensive formal education himself, but he recognized the value of an education. He did not always agree with the views of his fellow ministers, and his outspokenness may have been a factor in his having to pastor many small churches, including one in Flemington, Arthur's birthplace, in order to support his family.

Bella Huff Fauset was white, of Jewish background, and was a convert to Christianity. Her previous husband had been black also. She had no patience with prejudice. Like Reverend Fauset, she stressed the value of an education, and she was a positive influence on Arthur's aspirations. Reverend Fauset died in 1903, when Arthur was about four years old. Bella Fauset survived her husband for twenty years.

Arthur Huff Fauset married Crystal Dreda Bird in 1931. The couple divorced in 1944. Crystal Bird Fauset was a community leader and activist who achieved distinction in politics. Upon her election in 1938 to the Assembly of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, she became the first known black woman elected to a state legislature. Among his various affiliations, Arthur Huff Fauset was a fellow in the American Anthropological Association and a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity. He died on September 2, 1983 in Philadelphia.

Prepares for Career

Educated at Central High School in Philadelphia, Fauset secured his teaching credentials after studying at the Philadelphia School of Pedagogy for Men. He received all of his higher degrees at the University of Pennsylvania: his B.A. in 1921, his M.A. in 1924, and his Ph.D. in 1942.

Fauset began to teach elementary school in Philadelphia in 1918. He performed extremely well on the principals' qualifying examinations, and he requested an immediate assignment. School officials granted his request, although they then systematically transferred all the white students from the previously integrated Joseph Singerly (elementary) School. Fauset became its principal in 1926. In 1938, when an annex was built to address overcrowding, Fauset led the intensive campaign to have the school named for Frederick Douglass. The board of education, consisting of all whites, opposed doing so, considering Douglass too radical. The black community's efforts were successful, however, and Fauset remained principal of the newly renamed Douglass Singerly School until his retirement in 1946.

During his career, Fauset provided leadership in improving the conditions of teachers, and he worked diligently for civil rights. In the early 1930s, he was vice-president of the Philadelphia Teachers' Union. He was a member of the Urban League and of the National Negro Congress (NNC), the latter an activist organization that pursued equity issues more aggressively than most civil rights groups of the time.


Born in Flemington, New Jersey on January 20
Begins career as public school teacher and administrator
Folklore from Nova Scotia published by the American Folklore Association
Receives Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Pennsylvania
Publishes Black Gods of the Metropolis
Retires from public education career in Philadelphia
Dies in Philadelphia on September 2

Also in the thirties, Fauset served as president of the Philadelphia Council of the NNC as well as its national vice president. He left the organization when he felt it was not addressing the issues most important to African Americans. Fauset did not align himself with the leftist political wing of the group, but the influence of the Com-munist Party in the NNC led to problems in his pursuit of opportunities later.

Starting in the late 1930s, Fauset had a regular column in the Philadelphia Tribune called "I Write as I See." He also wrote short pieces published in the Philadelphia Independent. After the United States entered World War II, he volunteered for the army despite being well beyond the draft age. In addition to believing in the rightness of the cause, he was also eager to obtain first-hand experience in order to fight segregation in the military. He attended the Officers Training School and the Administrative School in Iowa, but he was not commissioned as a second lieutenant as expected. His activism, especially his association with the NNC, was the probable reason. He nonetheless received an honorable discharge.

Upon his return to Philadelphia in 1943, Fauset continued his work to improve conditions for blacks. He joined the United Peoples' Action Committee, a civil rights organization, and served as its chairman until 1946. He also edited The People's Voice, a Philadelphia edition of the New York-based publication co-founded by Adam Clayton Powell.

After 1946, he traveled abroad, spending time in Europe and in Egypt. He lived for a year in Mexico, an experience which prepared him to educate Spanish speakers later. He lived in New York City beginning in the 1950s. In the era of McCarthyism, his association with the NNC and with the United Peoples' Action Committee (also considered radical for the time) led to Fauset's being expelled from the New York Public School system in 1960. Fauset continued to teach in New York, and that city was his home base into the 1960s and 1970s. However, he did not hold any long-term positions. It was during this period that he taught English at the Spanish American Institute. He also founded a school designed to teach English and business basics to Spanish speakers. Insufficiently funded, the school did not last long.

Engages in Research and Creative Writing

Fauset's initial research and publications were in folklore, a focus which grew out of his anthropological studies. In the summer of 1923, he collected folklore in Nova Scotia. The project was developed through his work with Dr. Frank G. Speck, his advisor and chairman of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Elsie Clews Parsons, an intrepid pioneer in the folklore studies, sponsored the project and served as a mentor both on and off site.

The research provided the basis for Fauset's M.A. thesis in anthropology. It also resulted in his article, "Folklore from the Half-Breeds in Nova Scotia," published in Journal of American Folklore in 1925, as well as the basis for his Folklore of Nova Scotia, published in 1931. Fauset focused on collecting stories told by Negroes or descendants of Negroes who had settled in Nova Scotia in previous generations. He reported finding few carryovers with the folklore of blacks in the United States, a major reason being that wide and thin distribution of blacks in Nova Scotia. Fauset learned personally that prejudice based on color was present in Nova Scotia when he had difficulty securing lodging and other services.

Also in the 1920s, Fauset gathered folklore in Philadelphia and in the deep South (Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana), and he visited the British Islands of the Lesser Antilles. In 1922, he published "A Tale of the North Carolina Woods" in Crisis. In 1925, his "The Negro's Cycle of Song—A Review" was published in Opportunity. His article "Tales and Riddles Collected in Philadelphia" was published in 1928 in Journal of American Folklore. His other articles dealing with folk tradition include "Jumby," which drew on his travel to the West Indies, published in Ebony and Topaz (1927), and "Safe in the Arms of Jesus" published in Opportunity (1929).

The folklore research is relevant to Fauset's links to the Harlem Renaissance. Alain Locke, a key spokesperson for the Renaissance, was also a native of Philadelphia and a friend of the Fauset family. Locke had encouraged Fauset to obtain a college degree even though Fauset had already started his full-time career in the public schools. Aware of Fauset's folklore research, Locke solicited two selections for inclusion in The New Negro: An Interpretation (1925), edited by Locke. Fauset's contributions are "American Negro Folk Literature" and "Negro Folk Lore: A Bibliography."

In 1926, Fauset won first prize in two of the competitions sponsored by the journal Opportunity: the short story division prize for "Symphonesque" and the essay division prize for "Segregation." Opportunity, published under the leadership of Dr. Charles S. Johnson, the Urban League's director, was a major supporter of the work of young black artists developing in the Harlem Renaissance. "Symphonesque" was republished in Edward J. O'Brien's The Best Short Stories of 1926 as well as in the O. Henry Memorial Award Prize Short Stories series for that year.

In about 1924, the Ethiopian Publishing Company of Philadelphia issued Booker T. Washington, a brief work by Fauset. Of his books dealing with African American history, Fauset is better known, however, as the author of For Freedom: A Biographical Story of the American Negro (1927; rpt 1934) and Sojourner Truth: God's Faithful Pilgrim (1938). Although they are not limited to young readers, the books are intended for such an audience. In his introduction to For Freedom, Fauset notes, "It is told in the spirit of young folk because they, more than any of us, are able to re-live the lives and struggles of heroic characters with that innocence and fidelity of interpretation which are so essential to a true understanding of the elements which underlie human aspirations."

In introducing his volume on Sojourner Truth, Fauset emphasizes her revolutionary stance and notes that she was a rebel "despite her firm allegiance to Jehovah—or shall we say because of it." The book was favorably reviewed for its engaging narrative.

Fauset's major scholarly work is Black Gods of the Metropolis: Negro Religious Cults of the Urban North, his Ph.D. dissertation. The work was published by the University of Pennsylvania in 1944 and reissued by the press in 1971. The book considers five groups: the Mt. Sinai Holy Church of America; the United House of Prayer for All People; the Church of God, which identified itself as a group of Black Jews; the Moorish Science Temple of America; and the Father Divine Peace Mission Movement. All of the organizations were based in Philadelphia, except the Father Divine Movement, which was based then in New York.

Fauset conducted interviews and observed services and other activities by each group. At times, his status as a non-member of the sect was viewed with suspicion and he was not given full access to information. Fauset nonetheless obtained much detail to help describe each sect as objectively as possible. In summarizing his findings, Fauset states that there is no evidence to claim a "religious 'bent"" among Negroes. He cites the effects of segregation and discrimination as key in understanding emphasis on religion: "It is a fair inference that the apparent over-emphasis by the American Negro in the religious sphere is related to the comparative meager participation of Negroes in other institutional forms of American culture, such as business, politics, and industry, a condition which is bound up intimately with the prevailing custom of racial dichotomy which restricts the normal participation of Negroes in many avenues of American life." Fauset also asserts that social needs would probably receive more attention by the church in the future: "[A]s the evidence of some of the cults indicates,… he American Negro church is likely to witness a transformation from its purely religious function to functions which will accommodate the urgent social needs of the Negro masses under modern stresses of politics and economics." When the book was republished in 1971, Fauset quoted this assertion in his "Author's Note to the Paperback Edition," with the inference that he had indeed been correct.

The book was generally favorably reviewed. Reviewers praised Fauset's careful research and scholarship. A common criticism, however, was that the work could profit from being placed in a wider context, perhaps through comparative discussion and by giving more attention to analysis. Fauset recognized that he was dealing with a relatively small segment of non-traditional religious bodies even within the Negro church experience, and his purpose was descriptive more than analytical. In introducing the 1971 edition of Black Gods, the anthropologist John Szwed points out that the descriptive focus on an African American religious context is part of the book's singular importance.

In 1969, Fauset co-authored America: Red, White, Black, Yellow with Nellie Rathbone Bright, also a former Philadelphia school principal. Like For Freedom and Sojourner Truth, the work was especially meant for young readers and had been developed at the request of the Philadelphia school system's leaders. Fauset never lost interest in writing and the arts. While still based in Philadelphia before his retirement, he was co-founder of a cultural arts group called the Black Opals and was co-editor of its review of the same name.

Arthur Huff Fauset succeeded as scholar, educator, activist, and—throughout these endeavors—as author. His publications in folklore and anthropology document with clarity and without polemics the beliefs and practices of a variety of cultural groups outside the mainstream of their societies. As an activist, he wrote newspaper columns and essays attacking discriminatory practices, and while in various positions of leadership, he fought to change those practices. Despite difficulties resulting from his activism, he remained committed to the cause of social justice, the unifying principle of his life and work. In an interview with Carole H. Carpenter in 1970, Fauset fittingly characterized himself as having been "a fighting leader."



"Arthur Huff Fauset." Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History. 5 vols. New York: Macmillan, 1996.

Carpenter, Carole H. "Arthur Huff Fauset, Campaigner for Social Justice: A Symphony of Diversity." In African-American Pioneers in Anthropology. Eds. Ira E. Harrison and Faye V. Harrison. Urbana, Ill.: University of Illinois Press, 1999.

Hudson, Theodore R. "Fauset, Arthur Huff." The Oxford Companion to African American Literature. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.


"Arthur H. Fauset, Ex-Principal in Phila." Philadelphia Inquirer, 5 September 1983.

Mezzacappa, Dale. "Looking Back, Looking Ahead School Rededicates Itself to Douglass' Ideals" Philadelphia Inquirer, 19 May 1988.


Many of Fauset's papers are in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at the University of Pennsylvania. The Papers of Arthur Huff Fauset, 1855–1983, consist of 412 folders, five scrapbooks, and one portfolio (32 boxes). Materials include correspondence; addresses; published and unpublished short stories; and the unpublished autobiographical novel. (The beginning date is 1855 because of a ledger beginning in that year for the Union Building and Loan Association, Philadelphia.) The Rare Book and Manuscript Library also contains a copy of Fauset's book Booker T. Washington and 1941 correspondence he had with Marian Anderson.

The Memorial University of Newfoundland Folklore and Language Archive (St. John's) has tapes of the interviews conducted by Professor Carole H. Carpenter of York University (Toronto) with AHF in New York on February 27, 1970, and on June 29, 1970. These tapes are also on deposit at the Ontario Folklore-Folklife Archives of the Ontario Folklife Center at York University (Toronto). The latter center also includes additional documentation, photographs, and works by and about AHF.

                                     Arlene Clift-Pellow