Tuesday, February 25, 2014

BHM2014 - Abram Lincoln Harris, Jr.

Abram Lincoln Harris, Jr., (January 17, 1899 – November 6, 1963) the grandson of slaves, was the first nationally recognized black economist. Harris was highly respected for his work that focused primarily on class analysis, black economic life, and labor to illustrate the structural inadequacies of race and racial ideologies.  As a social critic, Harris took an active radical stance on racial relations by examining historical black involvement in the workplace, and suggested that African Americans needed to take more action in race relations. Harris’s major published works include The Negro Population in Minneapolis: A Study of Race Relations (1926), The Black Worker: the Negro and the Labor Movement (1931), and a book co-authored with Sterling D. Spero, The Negro as Capitalist (1936).  His final book, Economics and Social Reform, appeared in 1958. 

Born in 1899 in Richmond, Virginia to parents Abram Lincoln Harris, Sr., a butcher, and Mary Lee, a teacher, Harris grew up as part of the black middle class community in Richmond. After high school Harris earned a bachelor of sciences degree from Virginia Union University in 1922. 

After graduation from Virginia Union, Harris enrolled at the New York School of Social Work and worked briefly for the National Urban League (NUL) and the Messenger, the leading black Socialist newspaper.  Harris taught for one year at the West Virginia Collegiate Institute (now West Virginia State University) and then earned an M.A. from the University of Pittsburgh in 1924. Harris was appointed head of the Department of Economics at Howard University in 1928 and later completed his doctorate in economics from Columbia University in 1930. He taught in the economics department at Howard University from 1936 to 1945 and taught at the University of Chicago from then until his death.

In the 1940s Abram Harris, along with E. Franklin Frazier, Allison Davis, and Ralph Bunche, was selected by the Swedish economist Gunnar Myrdal as “insiders” to work on his ground breaking study An American Dilemma which was published in 1944.  Toward the end of the 1940s Harris began to retreat from his earlier work, progressive and race politics, and began to concentrate on economic philosophy. 

Abram Harris died in Chicago, Illinois on November 16, 1963.  He was 64.


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