Arthur Franklin Raper (November 8, 1899–August 10, 1979) was a rural sociologist and reformer whose work mirrored the problems and promise of the American South. Born in Davidson County, North Carolina, Raper attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he studied with sociologist Howard Odum. In 1926, Raper went to work for the Commission on Interracial Cooperation in Atlanta. As research secretary for the commission, Raper monitored race relations throughout the South, described the impact of the agricultural depression of the 1920s and 1930s, and cooperated with various New Deal agencies. From 1932 to 1939, he also taught part-time at Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia.
Raper endeavored to reach a broad audience, making numerous speeches across the South and publishing in both scholarly and popular outlets. Perhaps his most influential work was The Tragedy of Lynching, published in 1933. A study of every community where a lynching had occurred during 1930, The Tragedy of Lynching was widely reviewed and contributed to the anti-lynching campaign. In addition, Raper wrote three significant books on the rural South: Preface to Peasantry (1936), an attack on the plantation system in Georgia's Greene and Macon counties; Sharecroppers All (1941), coauthored with African-American sociologist Ira Reid, which portrayed the culture of dependency throughout the region; and Tenants of the Almighty (1943), describing Greene County's Unified Farm Program.
Raper's research was intertwined with his activism. He worked closely with the Farm Security Administration and other New Deal agencies that sought to provide relief for farmers and lift them out of tenancy. Raper also regularly challenged prevailing racial mores in his publications and actions. His transgressions of regional racial codes often drew criticism, as in 1935 when he took Agnes Scott students to historically black Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, and in 1941 when he was brought before a Greene County grand jury for using polite titles when addressing African Americans. Raper was an original member of the Southern Conference for Human Welfare.
In 1939, Raper went to work for the Carnegie-Myrdal study on race in America, which led to the publication of An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy (1944). Raper's report was considered by project director Gunnar Myrdal to be one of the most valuable in the study. In 1940, Raper began a two-year stint as a participant-observer of Greene County's Unified Farm Program, before moving to Washington to work for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Bureau of Agricultural Economics. After World War II, Raper turned to international rural development, explicitly linking his efforts in land reform and community development to his earlier work in the South.
See Also:AFRICAN AMERICANS, IMPACT OF THE GREAT DEPRESSION; RACE AND ETHNIC RELATIONS.
Egerton, John. Speak Now against the Day: The Generation before the Civil Rights Movement in the South. 1994.
Raper, Arthur F. Papers. Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
Singal, Daniel J. The War Within: From Victorian to Modernist Thought in the South, 1919–1945. 1982.
Sosna, Morton. In Search of the Silent South: Southern Liberals and the Race Issue. 1977.
Clifford M. Kuhn