On May 11, 2020, the University of Chicago will present the inaugural Allison Davis Symposium at the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts. Among those who have enthusiastically accepted our invitation to speak at the Symposium are Pulitzer Prize winning editorial writer for The New York Times, Brent Staples, AM'76, PhD'82; the James Bryant Conant University Professor and Director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University, Danielle Allen; and author of The Lost Black Scholar: Resurrecting Allison Davis in American Social Thought, David Varel. The occasion will be an inspiration to the entire University of Chicago community and to the communities surrounding campus, and beyond. A key aspect of the symposium will be to motivate the next generations of scholars to mine Davis’s work, deal in current issues of racial inequality and education, and to produce original, forward-looking scholarship. As such, top graduate students from across disciplines will play active roles in this event.

The full program will be announced in Winter Quarter 2020. 

W. ALLISON DAVIS 1902-1983

Allison Davis.jpgW. Allison Davis led a long and prolific life in academia, leaving his legacy as a model for transformative social science scholarship. He was trained in the methodologies of the Chicago School of Sociology and Social Anthropology. His scholarship maintained the kind of detached, professional tone that mid-century social scientists aspired to achieve. But for Davis, who was the first African American tenured faculty member at a predominantly white university, research was never a mission of mere academic fact-finding. Instead, he spent his life innovating new applications of cutting-edge social science to challenge racial inequality in America. 

Davis defied disciplinary boundaries to uncover the ways in which social inequality affects the lives of young people.  His pathbreaking research, exemplified in his 1941 book, Deep South, provided critical support for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund’s efforts in the Brown vs. Board of Education case. Across his long career, Davis called out bias in the methods social scientists adopt in the study of life success and educational achievement. For example, his studies with school children in Chicago and Mississippi documented racial bias in intelligence testing and led educators and scientists to reevaluate the validity of these measures. He was also among a group of University of Chicago scholars who laid the groundwork for Head Start.