Drake, St. Clair

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Drake, St. Clair 1911-1990


John Gibbs St. Clair Drake was a University of Chicagotrained social anthropologist. He was born on January 2, 1911, in Suffolk, Virginia, to an African American schoolteacher mother and a Barbadian-born father who was a Baptist preacher and an international organizer for Marcus Garveys Universal Negro Improvement Association.

After spending much of his youth in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Staunton, Virginia, Drake attended Hampton Institute (now Hampton University), graduating with a BS in biology in 1931. After graduation he spent a year in an experimental, nondegree program at Pendle Hill Quaker Graduate Center in Wallingford, Pennyslvania. The next three years he taught biology and English at Christiansburg Normal and Industrial Institute, a Quaker boarding school for blacks in western Virginia. In 1935 his former mentor at Hampton, Allison Davis, invited him to join his interracial team of anthropologists investigating racial caste and social class in Natchez, Mississippi. That project resulted in Deep South: A Social Anthropological Study of Caste and Class (Davis, Gardner, and Gardner 1941).

In 1937 Drake began graduate studies at the University of Chicago, where he worked with Lloyd Warner, Robert Redfield, and Fred Eggan. Drakes participation in a Works Projects Administration project in Chicago led to his collaboration with Horace Cayton, a sociology graduate student. Together they wrote the classic Black Metropolis: A Study of Negro Life in a Northern City (1945). The Chicago research project was also the basis for Churches and Voluntary Associations Among Negroes in Chicago (1940), a memorandum prepared for Gunnar Myrdal, commissioned by the Carnegie Foundation to produce An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy (1944).

In 1947 he conducted his dissertation research in Cardiff, Wales, where he studied a community made up of African seamen and their Welsh families. Drake examined the forms of social action that arose in response to British racial and colonial domination (Drake 1954). While in Britain he befriended Kwame Nkrumah (19091972) and other leaders of the African independence movement.

In 1946 Drake began a twenty-three-year tenure at Roosevelt University. Between 1954 and 1965 he pursued applied research interests during summers and two leaves. In 1954 and 1955 he collaborated with his wife, the sociologist Elizabeth Johns Drake (19151996), in a Ford Foundationfunded study of mass media in Ghana. From 1958 to 1961 he served as head of the Department of Sociology at the University of Ghana. He also directed research on the tensions between the postcolonial elite and traditional authorities, and on Tema, a modern port city built to stimulate Ghanas economic development. The new city was populated by resettling villagers from traditional lands, and Drakes analysis of that contested process was both critical and understanding of the governments policy. During his Africa years, he advised Nkrumah and helped train Peace Corps volunteers, sensitizing them to the cultural and political factors likely to affect their work.

After Ghanas 1966 military coup, Drakes scholarly focus shifted to problems in the African diaspora: urban unrest and race relations in the United States; cultural retention, reinterpretation, and syncretism in the Caribbean; patterns of coping and resistance in the African diaspora; and the intellectual history of blacks in anthropology and in black studies. In 1969 he moved to Stanford University to direct its African and Afro-American Studies Program. After retiring in 1976, he produced the two-volume Black Folk Here and There: An Essay in History and Anthropology (1987, 1990), in the tradition of W. E. B. Du Boiss Black Folk Then and Now (1939). In this his last major work, Drake examined the cultural and intellectual history of antiblack prejudice in the precolonial Old World diaspora and the colonial diaspora that formed within the plantation societies of the New World. He presented a symbolic and textual analysis along with an intellectual history and sociology of the knowledge on the status of sub-Saharan Africans in ancient Egypt and the wider Nile River Valley, the Islamic and Judaic Middle East, Mediterranean Europe, and northern European Christendom. He explained the major shifts during the sixteenth century that led to the emergence of racial slavery. In this book, along with a series of seminal essays, he presented a paradigm for studying the African diaspora.

Influenced by black vindicationism, pan-Africanism, the Quakers, and Depression-era socialists and communists, Drake was an activist intellectual. He organized sharecroppers and tenant farmers in Mississippi and unemployed workers in Chicago. He campaigned against the University of Chicagos urban renewal policy in the 1950s, and advised members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in the 1960s. He was also a founder of the American Society for African Culture and the American Negro Leadership Conference on Africa. He died on June 14, 1990.

SEE ALSO African American Studies; Metropolis; Park School, The; Park, Robert E.; Politics, Urban; Race



Drake, St. Clair. 1940. Churches and Voluntary Associations Among Negroes in Chicago. Chicago: Works Projects Administration.

Drake, St. Clair. 1954. Value Systems, Social Structure, and Race Relations in the British Isles. PhD diss., University of Chicago.

Drake, St. Clair. 1966. Race Relations in a Time of Rapid Social Change. New York: National Federation of Settlements.

Drake, St. Clair. 1987. Black Folks Here and There: An Essay in History and Anthropology. Vol. 1. Los Angeles: Center for Afro-American Studies, University of California at Los Angeles.

Drake, St. Clair. 1990. Black Folk Here and There: An Essay in History and Anthropology. Vol. 2. Los Angeles: Center for Afro-American Studies, University of California at Los Angeles.

Drake, St. Clair, and Horace Cayton. 1945. Black Metropolis: A Study of Negro Life in a Northern City. New York: Harcourt Brace.


Baber, Willie L. 1999. St. Clair Drake: Scholar and Activist. In African-American Pioneers in Anthropology, ed. Ira E. Harrison and Faye V. Harrison, 191212. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Bond, George Clement. 1988. A Social Portrait of John Gibbs St. Clair Drake: An American Anthropologist. American Ethnologist 15 (4): 762781.

Davis, Allison Davis, Burleigh B. Gardner, and Mary R. Gardner. 1941. Deep South: A Social Anthropological Study of Caste and Class. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Du Bois, W. E. B. 1939. Black Folk Then and Now: An Essay in the History and Sociology of the Negro Race. New York: Octagon.

Harrison, Faye V. 1992. The Du Boisian Legacy in Anthropology. Critique of Anthropology 12 (3): 239260.

Myrdal, Gunnar. 1994. An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy. New York: Harper and Brothers.

Faye V. Harrison

Drake, St. Clair

views updated May 29 2018

Drake, St. Clair

January 2, 1911
June 14, 1990

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 pathbreaking 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, 19871990). 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.

See also Anthropology and Anthropologists; Cayton, Horace; Davis, Allison


Drake, St. Clair. "In the Mirror of Black Scholarship. W. Allison Davis and Deep South." Harvard Educational Review, Monograph #2 (1974): 4254.

Drake, St. Clair. Autobiographical manuscripts held in the Schomburg Collection, New York Public Library.

frank untermyer (1996)

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