The purpose of this essay is to identify the origins of the debate between Wilson and Pinkney. The period covered focuses on the years 1894 to 1939 - from the publication of Franz Boas's "Human Faculty as Determined by Race" in the Proceedings of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1894, to the publications of Robert E. Park's "The Nature of Race Relations" in 1939. It is my argument that the parameters of the discussion regarding the progressiveness of race relations in the United States were defined during these years, and that all current theories are but extensions of or reactions against the theories formulated during the 50-year period that marked the formative years of American anthropology and sociology. This essay will be an endeavor in the field of the history of American race relations theory. As such, it will examine theories of black capabilities and the progress of leading social scientists as they have studied minority groups and race relations.
The current dispute over the saliency of class or race among students of race relations had its origins in the confrontation between nineteenth century raciology and environmentalism in the 1890s. The idea of class differentiation within the black population emerged as a key theoretical concept in anthropology and sociology during these years - primarily because reform-minded scholars such as Franz Boas and W.E.B. Du Bois were intent on undermining the social scientific foundations of racism in their respective disciplines. In countering the stereotype of blacks as persons incapable of matching the intellectual, cultural, and economic achievements of middle-class Americans of British ancestry, Boas and Du Bois effectively challenged the racism and ethnocentrism that directly affected their lives in the cities and universities in which they lived and worked.
Williams, Vernon Jr., "Race and Class in American Race Relations Theory, 1894-1939" (1986). William Monroe Trotter Institute Publications. 10.