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was a labor leader, a social and political activist, an economist
and criminologist, a specialist in race relations and prison reform,
and a professor of Latin American history. He was born in Austria
in 1893, immigrated to the United States in 1905, and died in
New York in 1969. As a young man Tannenbaum became involved in
one of the radical political groups that operated on the fringes
of the bohemian movement centered in Greenwich Village. He associated
with Emma Goldman and became active in the International Workers
of the World (IWW). In early 1914 he assumed leadership of a mob
of unemployed workers who began marching on lower Manhattan churches
demanding food and shelter. After about ten days of relatively
peaceful confrontations, his demonstrators clashed violently with
the police and Tannenbaum was arrested and sentenced to a one
year in prison.
with the help of warden Thomas Mott Osborne, Tannenbaum entered
Columbia University, where he distinguished himself as an honor
student and graduated Phi Beta Kappa. After graduation in 1921
he worked for a time as a correspondent for Survey magazine
in Mexico, then served a tour in the U.S. Army during which he
was stationed in the south. During his military service he became
interested in race and its impact on the south and began a study
that would result in two books on the African-American experience.
After leaving the army he earned his Ph.D. in economics at the
Brookings Institution with a dissertation on land reform in Mexico.
He then spent several years in Mexico, conducting research on
rural education and serving as an adviser to President Lázaro
Cárdenas. In 1932 he returned to the United States to teach
criminology at Cornell. He also helped devise the legislation
that established Farm Security Administration, and in 1935 he
joined the faculty at Columbia, ultimately becoming professor
of Latin American history.
connection to the Harlem Renaissance centered on his groundbreaking
study of race and racial violence in the south. This study, begun
during his military service, resulted in his first book, Darker
Phases of the South, published in 1924. Tannenbaum examined
several aspects of southern life in his effort to uncover the
explanation for the region's economic plight and its racial violence.
He especially focused on the horrors and brutality endured by
blacks in the southern penal systemthe prisons, and especially
the prison camps and the chain gangsand the racial violence
of the Ku Klux Klan. Avoiding emotionalism, he presented a starkly
detailed description of the dehumanizing system of violence, which,
he argued, dehumanized both the victim and the perpetrator. Tannenbaum
did more than expose the worst abuses of racism. He also described
the oppressed condition of white workers ensnared in the legalized
peonage of the mill towns, company-owned towns in which all aspects
of the workers' lives were controlled by their employers. It is
this lack of hope and joy, shared by farm tenant and mill-town
worker, that led to lynchings and provided members for the Klan.
Racial violence, he suggested, was a temporary escape from the
dull monotony of daily life for these oppressed whites; it also
addressed the "underlying current of apprehension that the
South will be outstripped in population by the colored as against
the white. It is fear of losing grip upon the world, of losing
caste, of losing control" (Tannenbaum 1924). Tannenbaum believed
that the migration of blacks out of the south, and their replacement
by European immigrants and labor conflict, might ultimately resolve
racial conflict in the region and in the nation.
image of the south was compatible with that presented by Walter
White in his study of racial violence, and the work of other black
novelists and poets. Tannenbaum's descriptions helped define the
racial views of white liberals during the 1920s and 1930s. His
work supported that of W. E. B. Du Bois and the National Association
for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in their antilynching
crusade of the 1920s. Two decades later Tannenbaum's views on
racial issues, especially on the oppressive role of monotony in
southern life, as well as his suggestion that the racial problem
in the south might be solved if white southerners became distracted
by labor problems and overrun with foreign immigrants, were cited
by Gunnar Myrdal in his pathbreaking study, An American Dilemma.
returned to the study of race in 1947 with Slave and Citizen:
The Negro in the Americas. This was a pioneering study of
comparative slavery by a white American scholar. He argued that
greater intermarriage and the protective role of the Catholic
church lessened the impact of race in Latin America. While more
recent scholarship has challenged Tannenbaum's argument, his comparative
approach inspired other historical studies of race and slavery
such as those by Stanley Elkins, Eugene Genovese, and Herbert
retired from Columbia in 1965, best-known for his work in Latin
American history and the theory of criminology. His writings on
race and slavery, surpassed by later scholarship, are much less
Frank Tannenbaum was born in Austria in 1893 and immigrated to
the United States in 1905. He became active in International Workers
of the World and spent a year in prison c. 1914 after a clash
with the police during a labor demonstration. After his release
he attended Columbia University, graduating in 1921; later he
earned a Ph.D. in economics at the Brookings Institution. He served
in the U.S. Army and was stationed in the south. He published
Darker Phases of the South in 1924. He taught criminology
at Cornell (1932) and Latin American history at Columbia (1935).
He published Slave and Citizen: The Negro in the Americas
in 1947. Tannenbaum retired from Columbia in 1965 and died in
New York in 1969.
Antilynching Crusade; White, Walter
Emma. Living My Life, Vol. 2. New York: Knopf, 1931.
Carter B. "Dr. Frank Tannenbaum, 76, Dies; Organized Columbia
Seminars." New York Times, 2 June 1969, p. 45.
Christine. American Moderns: Bohemian New York and the Creation
of a New Century. New York: Holt, 2000.
Frank. Darker Phases of the South. New York: Putnam, 1924.
Slave and Citizen: The Negro in the Americas. New York:
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