Logan, Rayford W. 1897–1982
Rayford W. Logan 1897–1982
Assessed the Black Experience in America
Rayford W. Logan was one of the foremost African-American scholars of the twentieth century. He was one of the first historians to study the history of the republic of Haiti, the first independent black nation in the western hemisphere. He also worked as a government expert, arguing for the establishment of the black fighting air squadron known as the Tuskegee Airmen during World War II, and serving as an observer at the United Nations following the war. “Logan was a distinguished African American intellectual and scholar; a Pan Africanist and civil rights activist; an associate of better-known black leaders … and an inveterate politicker and socializer among black bourgeoisie,” wrote his biographer, Kenneth R. Janken, in the Negro History Bulletin.
Logan’s career also demonstrated the difficulty African-American scholars had in getting the predominantly white academic community to take their scholarship seriously. “For a period of almost 100 years after the Civil War,” declared Robert Bruce Slater in the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, “distinguished black academics such as … Rayford Logan were not acceptable as scholars at America’s great institutions of higher learning.” In part this was because of institutional racism and in part because these scholars studied African-American history at a time when the subject received little respect. Logan, explained reviewer Winthrop D. Jordan in the Journal of Southern History, “wrote and otherwise taught about the history of black people in this country many years before it became fashionable to do so.”
Faced Racism at Home
Logan was born in Washington, D.C., on January 7, 1897, at a time when racism ran rampant in the nation’s capital. Logan felt discriminated against by the white community as well as by the local black elite, who believed that African Americans with lighter skin were socially more respectable than those with darker complexions. Although Logan himself was light-complexioned, he was not welcomed among the elite because they felt he lacked pedigree. “Not having measured up to the standards of the black aristocracy,” wrote Sterling Stuckey in an African American Review assessment of Janken’s biography Rayford W. Logan and the Dilemma of the African-American Intellectual, “was doubtless a primary source of problems that haunted Logan.” Much later, during the civil rights struggle, Logan argued strongly against African Americans calling themselves “black.” He preferred “negro,” perhaps because of his early experiences.
After graduating from M Street High School in Washington—where he studied with prominent black academics and writers such as Carter G. Woodson and Jessie R. Fauset—Logan enrolled in the University of Pittsburgh to study engineering. Before he completed his first semester, however, he transferred to Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts. There he attended history courses, but the college’s policy forced him to live and eat off-campus rather than in the campus dormitories and dining halls.
Logan received his bachelors degree from Williams in 1917 and promptly enlisted in the U.S. Army to fight
At a Glance…
Born on January 7, 1897, in Washington, DC; died on November 4, 1982, in Washington, DC; son of Arthur C. and Martha (Whittingham) Logan; married Ruth Robinson (a musician and choir director), August, 1927 (died June 30, 1966). Education: Williams College, AB, 1917, MA, 1929; Harvard University, AM, 1932, PhD, 1936. Military Service: US Army, infantry, first lieutenant, 1917-19.
Career: Virginia Union University, head of history department, 1925-30; Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, assistant to director, 1932-33, director, 1950-51; Atlanta University, head of history department, 1933-38; Howard University, professor, 1938-69, head of history department, 1942-64, historian of the university, 1965-69, distinguished professor of history, 1971-74, distinguished professor emeritus, 1974-82.
Memberships: Chair, federal defense committee, 1940-45; U.S. UNESCO commission, 1947-50; Pan African Congress, interpreter, 1921, 1923, 1927.
Awards: Commander, National Order of Honor and Merit, Republic of Haiti; Spingarn Medal, NAACP, 1980; honorary degrees.
in World War I. He was awarded an officer’s commission in a segregated unit, but he again encountered racism that made it difficult for him to perform his duties. “Stationed in France at the front,” explained Notable Black American Men, “Logan was deeply troubled by the treatment of African American soldiers in general and intensely offended by the slights he received as an officer, especially from white enlisted men who refused to salute him, black soldiers who disobeyed him because he was a light mulatto, and other officers who discriminated against or otherwise mistreated him.” Finally, Logan requested and received a discharge from the Army in 1919, choosing to remain in France rather than return to the United States.
Moved into the Academic World
For the next five years Logan lived and worked in Europe. By 1921 he had begun to work for the Pan African Congress, a series of meetings between African Diaspora intellectuals discussing ways to end colonialism and temper its effects on dark-skinned peoples around the world. Because of his command of French, Logan was enlisted as translator for the great African-American intellectual W. E. B. Du Bois. The experience gave him an understanding for the issues facing people of African descent throughout the world. It also prepared him to face the issues he confronted later in his career, especially the notion of black inferiority and the idea of racial equality. He later used his experience with the Pan African Congress in the late 1940s and 1950s when he served as NAACP observer at the United Nations General Assembly in Paris.
In the mid-1920s Logan returned to the United States and accepted a position at Virginia Union University. He also enrolled in graduate school, majoring in history. He received a masters degree from Williams in 1929 and immediately entered Harvard, earning another degree in 1932. By 1936 he had completed his Ph.D. and within two years had left another position at Atlanta University for a professorship at Howard University—the premier African-American university in the entire United States. In part, this movement from job to job was the result of Logan’s refusal to accept the kind of discrimination that faced blacks in the mid-twentieth century American South. But a kind of “academic apartheid,” as Janken termed it in his Negro History Bulletin article, dogged his reputation even at Howard. “Logan’s tenure at Howard—more than three decades—was marked by achievement in a panoply of areas, and especially scholarship, civil rights, and Caribbean and African affairs,” declared Janken in the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education. “Yet, despite a distinguished record, Logan could not escape the tag that he was a ‘Negro’ (that is, second rate) intellectual.”
It was while serving at Howard that Logan published his most significant scholarship, including two works of Caribbean history, The Diplomatic Relations of the United States with Haiti and Haiti and the Dominican Republic, related in subject but published 27 years apart. The monographs both emphasized the significance of Haiti as the first independent black republic in the western hemisphere, and the second nation in the hemisphere to win its independence from a colonizing power. In the first of the two, Logan “never permits the reader to forget that Haiti … was discriminated against because its people were black,” explained Carl Ludwig Lokke in the American Historical Review, “and that our government long deferred recognition of Haitian independence” even while recognizing revolutions in Latin American countries that also established independent nations. Haiti and the Dominican Republic “offers nonspecialist readers a good survey of these two nations, their impacts on one another,” wrote John E. Baur in the Hispanic American Historical Review, “and, incidentally, their joint significance to the United States.”
Assessed the Black Experience in America
Logan also published significant works on the history of blacks in the United States. What the Negro Wants, the work Logan edited and published in 1944, was a statement of the intention of American blacks in all parts of the political spectrum, conservative, moderate, and radical, to accept “nothing less than complete equality,” declared Eugene Holmes in the Journal of Negro History. “The book will probably be an eye opener and a revelation to many white persons,” said Phylon contributor Benjamin E. Mays, “especially those who seem to feel that the Negro wants something other than the rights and privileges guaranteed him in the Federal Constitution.” “What the Negro writers say in the book,” stated William Stuart Nelson in the Journal of Negro Education, “strengthens one’s belief in the democratic ideal even after one has discounted fully its unfortunate malpractice in our midst.”
Logan confronted discrimination in getting What the Negro Wants published. The director of the University of North Carolina Press, W. T. Couch, supported racial discrimination in the South and was taken aback by the essays’ unanimous demand for complete equality. “His initial offers to Logan of complete editorial freedom evaporated when he read the manuscript,” Janken reported in the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, “and he tried alternately to cajole and bully Logan into moderating the essays.” Logan “resisted Couch’s attempts to censor him,” Janken continued, “he threatened to sue should Couch refuse to publish the manuscript, and the press relented.”
The Negro in American Life and Thought: The Nadir, 1877-1901 “redirected the historical discourse concerning the black experience in the post-Reconstruction decades,” explained Willard B. Gatewood in the Journal of American History. It became known as Logan’s “most celebrated work,” declared Janken in the Negro History Bulletin, and it emphasized three major elements in the disenfranchisement of African Americans: the indifferent attitude of four consecutive American presidents toward preserving the voting rights of blacks; assaults in the U.S. press and in American popular culture on black reputations, even to the point of questioning black Americans’ humanity; and finally, the “climate of violence” that these attacks and the indifference of the federal government fostered. The Negro in the United States expanded on this story of black disenfranchisement, taking it through the first half of the twentieth century. “Logan,” wrote Ernest Kaiser in the Journal of Negro Education, “inveighs against the Dunning-Burgess school of historians and praises [Carter G.] Woodward, Howard K. Beale and other revisionists.” The work traced the failure of U.S. administrations to address discrimination significantly until the 1960s.
Although Logan helped shape the civil rights movement during the 1930s and 1940s, within a decade of the publication of The Negro in the United States in 1957, the struggle for black rights had largely passed him by. Logan was, by many accounts, a difficult personality. He was “a fiercely independent man with a prickly personality,” reported Gatewood, who “rarely considered his civil rights cohorts or his faculty colleagues … as his intellectual equals.” His sensitivity toward perceived slights made him difficult for others to work with. Logan became known as “a second-rank leader in the civil rights movement,” Gatewood concluded, who saw his role as one of “a militant prophet who condemned both American racism and the timid tactics of those seeking to combat it.”
Logan seemed out of touch with the movements of students during the 1960s. He “opposed the concept of Black Power and its Negritude and Garveyite antecedents,” explained Janken in the Negro History Bulletin, “that the lingua franca of Negritude was French was a strong indication to Logan of the Western influences on the African diaspora and a potent argument against claims of a pure and inherently superior black culture and spirit.” Student protests about disproportionate black casualties in Vietnam made no sense to a man who had been one of the few African Americans to hold an officer’s commission in World War I. By the time Logan died on November 4, 1982, his role as a scholar and an activist had all but been forgotten. Within the past decade, however, scholarship has begun to revise opinions of this significant civil rights activist and American historian. “Rayford Logan,” stated Jordan, “was one of the pioneers in the field of Afro-American history, and he took a remarkably broad view of the subject at a time when the vast majority of people in the academic community were paying it virtually no attention at all.”
Education in Haiti, Washington, D.C., 1930.
(Editor) The Attitude of the Southern White Press toward Negro Suffrage, 1932-1940, Foundation Publishers, 1940.
The Diplomatic Relations of the United States with Haiti, 1776-1891, University of North Carolina Press, 1941.
The Operation of the Mandate System in Africa, 1919-1927: With an Introduction on the Problem of the Mandates in the Post-War World, Foundation Publishers, 1942.
(Editor) What the Negro Wants, University of North Carolina Press, 1944.
The Negro and the Post-War World: A Primer, Minorities Publishers, 1945.
The Senate and the Versailles Mandate System, Minorities Publishers, 1945.
The African Mandates in World Politics, Public Affairs Press, 1949.
(Editor) Memoirs of a Monticello Slave, as Dictated to Charles Campbell in the 1840’s by Isaac, One of Thomas Jefferson’s Slaves, University of Virginia Press, 1951.
The Negro in American Life and Thought: The Nadir, 1877-1901, Dial Press, 1954, published as The Betrayal of the Negro from Rutherford B. Hayes to Woodrow Wilson, Collier Books, 1965.
The New Negro Thirty Years Afterward: Papers Contributed to the Sixteenth Annual Spring Conference of the Division of Social Science, Howard University Press, 1955.
The Negro in the United States: A Brief History, Van Nostrand, 1957.
(With Irving S. Cohen) The American Negro: Old World Background and New World Experience, Houghton, 1967.
(With Philip Sterling) Four Took Freedom: The Lives of Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Robert Smalls, and Blanche K. Bruce, illustrated by Charles White, Doubleday, 1967.
Haiti and the Dominican Republic, Oxford University Press, 1968.
Howard University: The First Hundred Years, 1867-1967, New York University Press, 1969.
The Negro in the United States, Van Nostrand, Volume 1: A History to 1945: From Slavery to Second-Class Citizenship (originally published as The Negro in the United States: A Brief History), 1970, Volume 2: (with Michael R. Winston) The Ordeal of Democracy, 1971.
(Editor) W. E. B. Du Bois: A Profile, Hill & Wang, 1971.
(Editor with Michael R. Winston) Dictionary of American Negro Biography, Norton, 1982.
Janken, Kenneth R., Rayford W. Logan and the Dilemma of the African-American Intellectual, University of Massachusetts Press, 1993.
Notable Black American Men, Gale Research, 1997.
The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives, Volume 1: 1981-1985, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1998.
African American Review, Spring 1996, pp. 125-127.
American Historical Review, April 1942, pp. 625-626; February 1995, p. 247.
Hispanic American Historical Review, February 1969, pp. 161-162.
Journal of American History, December 1994, pp. 1360-1361.
Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, Summer 1995, pp. 74-77.
Journal of Negro Education, Winter 1945, pp. 67-68; Autumn 1962, pp. 468-479.
Journal of Negro History, January 1945, pp. 90-92; Winter/Autumn 1996, pp. 1-16.
Journal of Southern History, November 1990, pp. 786-787.
Negro History Bulletin, July-December 1998, p. 38.
Phylon, Volume 5, number 4, 1944, pp. 387-389.
“Rayford W. Logan,” Biography Resource Center, www.galenet.com/servlet/BioRC (April 4, 2003).
“Rayford W(hittingham) Logan,” Contemporary Authors Online, reproduced in Biography Resource Center, www.galenet.com/servlet/BioRC (April 4, 2003).
—Kenneth R. Shepherd
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