Logan, Rayford W.

views updated

Logan, Rayford W.

January 7, 1897
November 4, 1982

The historian Rayford Whittingham Logan, the son of Arthur C. and Martha Logan, was born and raised in Washington, D.C. Although his family was poor, it had social status and connections owing to Arthur's position as butler to the Republican senator from Connecticut. Logan was educated at the prestigious but segregated M Street (later Dunbar) High School, whose faculty included Carter G. Woodson and Jessie Fauset, and whose alumni included Charles Houston, William Hastie, and Charles Drew; his secondary education was conscious preparation not only for college but also for race leadership. He attended Williams College (graduating Phi Beta Kappa in 1917) and then joined the army, rose to lieutenant, and was injured in combat.

World War I was a turning point for Logan. Like most African Americans, he had expected that participation in the conflict would lead to full citizenship rights. But the extreme racism of army life angered him. After the armistice he demobilized in France, remaining there for five years. Because he avoided white American tourists, he experienced the freedom of a society that appeared to harbor little animus toward people of color. While an expatriate, he began a lifelong association with W. E. B. Du Bois and became a leading advocate of Pan-Africanism, helping to articulate a program for racial equality in the United States and the protection and development of Africans.

In 1924 Logan returned to the United States with a desire to pursue an academic career and merge it with civil rights activism. While working toward an M.A. at Williams (1927) and a Ph.D. from Harvard (1936), Logan taught at Virginia Union University (19251930), where he was the first to introduce courses on imperialism and black history, and at Atlanta University (19331938). Both were elite, historically black colleges. He also spent two years as Woodson's assistant at the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (now the Association for the Study of African American Life and History). Along with Du Bois, Woodson was a seminal influence on Logan's scholarship. In the 1930s he worked closely with Du Bois on the Encyclopedia of the Negro project. In 1938 he moved to Howard University, where he remained until he retired in 1974. Logan developed a strong scholarly and political interest in Haiti and the European powers' administration of their African colonies. His dissertation on Haiti and the United States broke new scholarly ground on the issue of race and diplomacy. He witnessed firsthand the 1934 end of the American occupation of the island republic, and in 1941 the Haitian government awarded him the Order of Honor and Merit with the rank of commander for his scholarship and advocacy. In the same year his study The Diplomatic Relations of the United States with Haiti, 17761891 was published. His articles on colonial abuses in Africa and the African Diaspora appeared in the Journal of Negro History, the Journal of Negro Education, and the Pittsburgh Courier.

The thrust of Logan's scholarship and activism was to promote the dignity and equality of black people around the world and to expose the racial hypocrisy of American democracy. He organized voter registration drives in Richmond and Atlanta in the 1920s and 1930s, campaigned against the segregated military in the 1940s, and was a leader in A. Philip Randolph's March on Washington Movement (participating in the final negotiations that led to Executive Order 8802, which prohibited discrimination in the Defense Department and established the Fair Employment Practices Committee (FEPC), a condition set by leaders of the movement to call off the march). In 1944 he edited What the Negro Wants, a collection of essays by fourteen prominent African Americans that helped to put squarely before a national, interracial audience the demand for a total end to segregation. He championed, in close association with Du Bois, the cause of African and Third World decolonization in the post-World War II era; between 1948 and 1950 he was the principal adviser on international affairs for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). His most renowned work, The Negro in American Life and Thought: The Nadir, 18771901 (1954), established an analytical framework that historians continue to find useful. Logan spent his last decade compiling and editing, with Michael R. Winston, the Dictionary of American Negro Biography (1982), an important reference work that was inspired by Du Bois's unfinished Encyclopedia of the Negro.

An intellectual of considerable talent, Logan also hoped to be a major civil rights figure. But in part because of his abrasive personality and aversion to accepting the organizational discipline of others, and in part because his views were at times more strident than those of the mainstream advancement organizations, he could more often be found on the margins, in the role of the prophet who received little recognition. This conundrum allowed Logan the luxury of being an incisive critic but prevented him from consistently implementing his often farsighted plans and from accumulating the recognition he felt he deserved from both African Americans and white Americans. Nevertheless, he was awarded the Spingarn Medal by the NAACP in 1980. He died in Washington, D.C., in 1982.

See also Association for the Study of African American Life and History; Du Bois, W. E. B.; Haitian Revolution; Howard University; National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; Pan-Africanism; Randolph, Asa Philip; Spingarn Medal; Woodson, Carter G.


Janken, Kenneth Robert. Rayford W. Logan and the Dilemma of the African-American Intellectual. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1993.

Meier, August, and Elliott Rudwick. Black History and the Historical Profession, 19151980. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1986.

kenneth robert janken (1996)