Date of Award

Spring 2004

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

J William Harris


Arthur Raper was a progressive sociologist and controversial voice for racial and social equality in the South during the 1920s and 1930s. Son of a white, North Carolina farm family, Raper became allied with modernist voices at Chapel Hill and the University of Chicago. Raper's research was widely discussed through the region and greatly influenced Southern race relations in the years leading to the civil rights movement.

Raper was the first white southerner to look critically and scientifically at the causes of racial violence. The Tragedy of Lynching (1933) was reviewed in hundreds of Southern newspapers and discussed throughout the nation. He conducted seminal studies of social relations and the changing culture of rural Georgia in Preface to Peasantry (1936). Sharecroppers All (1941) and Tenants of the Almighty (1943) documented the debilitating effects of traditional racial and economic policies on the South's rural farm families, both black and white. Raper contributed significantly to Gunnar Myrdal's An American Dilemma (1944), the single most influential study of U.S. race relations.

Raper's work demonstrated the social and civil-rights activism that flourished among engaged intellectuals during the New Deal era. He participated in numerous liberal organizations and events from the 1920s to the 1940s, working for the Council on Interracial Cooperation and participating in the Southern Council on Human Welfare, organizing union members and studying rural agriculture. Throughout his life, Raper believed the key to economic and agricultural prosperity was joining a focus on local cultures and economies with federal planning and assistance.

After World War II, Raper worked on the reconstruction of Japan, the success of which he recognized as the fullest application of liberal, New-Deal principles. At the height of the Cold War, he worked for the U.S. in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, promoting the same mix of government planning and local control he had practiced in the New Deal South. Raper became an ardent advocate, throughout the Third World, of a liberal, modern version of Jeffersonian democracy.