Anthropology St. Clair Drake
Aimee Meredith Cox
  • LAST REVIEWED: 31 July 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 11 January 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766567-0062


John Gibbs St. Clair Drake’s groundbreaking scholarship continues to be highly influential in the theoretical frameworks and methodological approaches used in research on African Americans, urban poverty, community transformation and development, social organization, and social justice. Although St. Clair Drake was educated and trained as an anthropologist, contemporary discussions of Drake’s research most often align him with sociology. The work hailed as St. Clair Drake’s greatest achievement, Black Metropolis: A Study of Negro Life in a Northern City (1945), written with Horace R. Cayton, emerged from, while expanding upon, the quantitative and ethnographic tradition of The Chicago School of Sociology. William Julius Wilson, one of the most prolific and prominent sociologists of the past four decades, studies the same Bronzeville communities in Chicago that are the focus of Black Metropolis and uses Drake’s analysis of the impact of economic and social conditions on urban working and low-income African Americans during the latter part of the 1930s to 1940s to track and historically contextualize his research starting in the 1970s. In addition to his research and publications, St. Clair Drake had a profound impact on the formal institutionalization of African American studies as a discipline within higher education. Beginning with Roosevelt University in Chicago, where he was a member of the faculty from 1946 to 1968, to his founding of the African and African American Studies department at Stanford University, Drake demonstrated the importance of establishing sustainable institutions that are specifically designed to attend to research related to the history of, cultural productions within, and social dynamics of communities of the African diaspora. Drake is also credited with formulating groundbreaking research and social commentary on Pan-Africanism that has influenced the ways anthropologists and black studies scholars theorize the African diaspora. The many academics, across disciplines, influenced by Drake’s research and practice consider him a model of intellectualism that can be active and praxis oriented. Drake has defined himself as an activist anthropologist interested in using the tools of anthropology for the goal of black liberation. In an in-depth interview with George Clement Bond (Bond 1988, cited under General Overviews) Drake is quoted as saying, “Had I not been black, I would have been a very different kind of anthropologist” (p. 780). His scholarship sought to intervene both theoretically in the status quo of academic discourse on race, urban communities of color, US and African relations, and anthropology, as well as within the everyday lived experiences of African descendents.

General Overviews

From the following overview accounts of Drake’s personal, academic, and activist life, the reader gains the clear sense that these realms were not isolated spaces but well integrated and formed the holistic way Drake envisioned praxis-oriented intellectualism. The social justice foundation of Drake’s anthropology can be traced to his connection to theology and the theories of peace that he was exposed to during the year he spent attending Quaker graduate school outside of Philadelphia and teaching at the Quaker high school associated with the Society of Friends. Baber 1999, Bond 1988, and Jordan 1982 talk extensively about this experience and how other experiences, such as his introduction to protest politics at Hampton Institute (now University) cultivated in Drake the belief that his research and writing must address inequalities rooted in race, class, and caste. In Bond 1988 we get a sense of how Drake himself felt about his fieldwork for Deep South in Mississippi with Allison Davis who would turn out to be his longtime mentor and advocate. Harrison 2008 includes a discussion of Drake’s Pan-Africanism while theorizing the ways in which his work and writing on the global black community has influenced the development of contemporary black diaspora studies. Harrison 1988 also discusses Drake’s enduring impact on diaspora across disciplines, while additionally considering Drake’s impact on urban anthropological theory and methods. Written by a former mentee of Drake’s, Jordan 1982 provides a critical reading of four of Drake’s most prominent works: Black Metropolis; Value Systems, Social Structure and Race Relations in the British Isle; Africa and the Black Diaspora; and Black Folk Here and There: An Essay in Comparative History and Anthropology. Jordan 1990 is a concise overview of Drake’s scholarly activism as mentorship. Baber’s chapter on Drake in the edited volume African American Pioneers in Anthropology (Baber 1999), the interview in Bond 1988, and the St. Clair Drake website trace Drake’s life from his childhood in Virginia and education at the Booker T. Washington High School and move through his fieldwork in the south with Davis, teaching and institution-building at Dilliard, Roosevelt, and Stanford Universities, research and activism in Africa, writing of Black Metropolis and graduate studies at the University of Chicago, dissertation fieldwork at Tiger Bay in Cardiff Wales, establishment of the program in African and African American Studies at Stanford, and ongoing projects investigating race relations and black liberation.

  • Baber, Willie L. 1999. St. Clair Drake: Scholar and activist. In African-American pioneers in anthropology. Edited by Ira E. Harrison and Faye V. Harrison, 191–212. Urbana: Univ. of Illinois Press.

    Baber analyzes Drake’s connection to theology and how his connection to religion impacted his trajectory as a vindicationist scholar, or a scholar committed to countering racist ideas and race-based oppression. Includes sections on Drake’s early influences as an undergraduate and graduate student; his fieldwork with Allison Davis in Mississippi; commitment to Pan-Africanism and work in Africa; work on Black Metropolis; and enduring impact on scholars.

  • Bond, George Clement. 1988. A social portrait of John Gibbs St. Clair Drake: An American anthropologist. American Ethnologist 15.4: 762–781.

    DOI: 10.1525/ae.1988.15.4.02a00110

    Gives insight into various influences in Drake’s life and how each played a critical role in Drake’s development as a self-defined activist anthropologist. The wide-ranging influences in Drake’s work include his Southern Baptist upbringing, time studying and teaching with Quakers, experiences in Africa, Radcliffe-Brown’s structural functionalism, and his many mentors and colleagues within the fields of anthropology, sociology, and African and African American studies.

  • Drake, St. Clair. Papers, Sc MG 309. Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library.

    The Schomburg Center houses 309 boxes of Drake’s unpublished works spanning the years 1935–1990. These works include correspondence, office files, writing, research notes and materials, and information on foundations and organizations. There is unrestricted access to these papers, which were a gift from St. Clair Drake. The works cover Drake’s biography, his career as educator, scholar, and activist and span his work in the United States, Ghana, Liberia, and Britain.

  • Harrison, Faye. 1988. An African diaspora perspective for urban anthropology. Special issue: Black folks in cities here and there—Changing patterns of discrimination and response. Urban Anthropology 17.2–3: 111–141.

    In this special edition in honor of St. Clair Drake, Harrison’s introduction offers a broad lens on the legacy of Drake’s work including the influence of Black Metropolis on urban anthropology, his work the Deep South (Davis, et al. 1941 as cited in Influences and Early Work) and his contributions to contemporary interdisciplinary work on diaspora.

  • Harrison, Faye. 2008. Outsider within: Reworking anthropology in the global age. Urbana: Univ. of Illinois Press.

    A compilation of theoretical essays on what Harrison terms an alternative anthropology that corrects and moves beyond its problematic history. Harrison offers a discussion of Drake’s anticolonialist praxis and the importance of storytelling to his pedagogy and mentoring style. Harrison additionally considers the impact of Black Metropolis and the ways in which both this work and Deep South (Davis, et al. 1941 as cited in Influences and Early Work) foreshadowed later work on the social construction of race.

  • Jordan, Glenn H. 1982. Reading St. Clair Drake: A methodological essay with a focus on Black Metropolis. Afro Scholar Working Papers. Urbana: Univ. of Illinois.

    Offers a summary of each major work, situates each within the context of Drake’s scholarly agenda, and provides a critical analysis of the gaps, silences, and unstated assumptions across these four texts. The appendices also offer valuable information that include the monographs prepared for Black Metropolis, a comprehensive “autobiosketch” of Drake’s life, a bibliography of his published and unpublished writing, and the table of contents from his major texts.

  • Jordan, Glenn H. 1990. On being a committed intellectual: St. Clair Drake and the politics of anthropology. Transforming Anthropology 1.2: 15–18.

    DOI: 10.1525/tran.1990.1.2.15

    In this short reflective piece, Jordan details how Drake influenced his development as a social scientist interested in anthropology as a method for liberating others. This essay provides further important insight into the ways in which Drake’s integration of the academic and the socially just influenced the professional trajectories and theoretical approaches taken by a subsequent generation of anthropologists.

  • St. Clair Drake.

    This website edited by Abdul Alkalimat is both a tribute to St. Clair Drake and a comprehensive site that compiles a bibliography of Drake’s central writings as well as writing about Drake and his work (with links to the majority of the articles listed), a gallery of photographs, and an introduction that outlines the hallmarks of Drake’s personal and academic life. Included in this website are two videos of St. Clair Drake.

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