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Fauset, Arthur Huff(1899–1983) - Anthropologist, educator, Prepares for Career, Chronology

school philadelphia black redmon

Arthur Huff Fauset was the fourth known African American to receive the Ph.D. in anthropology. His dissertation, Black Gods of the Metropolis: Negro Religious Cults of the Urban North , was first published in 1944. As a young man, he won prizes in the Urban League’s Opportunity contests. He also wrote books and articles in the areas of folklore and history. He had a long career as a school principal in Philadelphia, during which time he fought for better working conditions for teachers, as well as for civil rights for blacks and other disadvantaged people.

Arthur Huff Fauset was born on January 20, 1899, in Flemington, New Jersey. His parents were Redmon and Bella Huff Fauset. Redmon Fauset was a widower with seven children when he married Bella Huff, who already had three children from her previous marriage. The couple then had three children of their own, two boys and a girl. Arthur was the second of the three.

Arthur was the half-brother of Jessie Redmon Fauset (1882–1961), the youngest child of Redmon Fauset’s previous marriage. Jessie Fauset, the first known black woman to be elected to Phi Beta Kappa, was a major figure in the Harlem Renaissance both as a literary editor of the NAACP’s influential magazine The Crisis and through her creative writing.

The Fauset family was well-established in the Philadelphia area, having lived there since the eighteenth century. Redmon was an African Methodist Episcopal minister who did not have extensive formal education himself, but he recognized the value of an education. He did not always agree with the views of his fellow ministers, and his outspokenness may have been a factor in his having to pastor many small churches, including one in Flemington, Arthur’s birthplace, in order to support his family.

Bella Huff Fauset was white, of Jewish background, and was a convert to Christianity. Her previous husband had been black also. She had no patience with prejudice. Like Reverend Fauset, she stressed the value of an education, and she was a positive influence on Arthur’s aspirations. Reverend Fauset died in 1903, when Arthur was about four years old. Bella Fauset survived her husband for twenty years.

Arthur Huff Fauset married Crystal Dreda Bird in 1931. The couple divorced in 1944. Crystal Bird Fauset was a community leader and activist who achieved distinction in politics. Upon her election in 1938 to the Assembly of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, she became the first known black woman elected to a state legislature. Among his various affiliations, Arthur Huff Fauset was a fellow in the American Anthropological Association and a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity. He died on September 2, 1983 in Philadelphia.

Prepares for Career

Educated at Central High School in Philadelphia, Fauset secured his teaching credentials after studying at the Philadelphia School of Pedagogy for Men. He received all of his higher degrees at the University of Pennsylvania: his B.A. in 1921, his M.A. in 1924, and his Ph.D. in 1942.

Fauset began to teach elementary school in Philadelphia in 1918. He performed extremely well on the principals’ qualifying examinations, and he requested an immediate assignment. School officials granted his request, although they then systematically transferred all the white students from the previously integrated Joseph Singerly (elementary) School. Fauset became its principal in 1926. In 1938, when an annex was built to address overcrowding, Fauset led the intensive campaign to have the school named for Frederick Douglass. The board of education, consisting of all whites, opposed doing so, considering Douglass too radical. The black community’s efforts were successful, however, and Fauset remained principal of the newly renamed Douglass Singerly School until his retirement in 1946.

During his career, Fauset provided leadership in improving the conditions of teachers, and he worked diligently for civil rights. In the early 1930s, he was vice-president of the Philadelphia Teachers’ Union. He was a member of the Urban League and of the National Negro Congress (NNC), the latter an activist organization that pursued equity issues more aggressively than most civil rights groups of the time.

Chronology

1899

Born in Flemington, New Jersey on January 20

1918

Begins career as public school teacher and administrator

1931

Folklore from Nova Scotia published by the American Folklore Association

1942

Receives Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Pennsylvania

1944

Publishes Black Gods of the Metropolis

1946

Retires from public education career in Philadelphia

1983

Dies in Philadelphia on September 2

Also in the thirties, Fauset served as president of the Philadelphia Council of the NNC as well as its national vice president. He left the organization when he felt it was not addressing the issues most important to African Americans. Fauset did not align himself with the leftist political wing of the group, but the influence of the Communist Party in the NNC led to problems in his pursuit of opportunities later.

Starting in the late 1930s, Fauset had a regular column in the Philadelphia Tribune called “I Write as I See.” He also wrote short pieces published in the Philadelphia Independent . After the United States entered World War II, he volunteered for the army despite being well beyond the draft age. In addition to believing in the rightness of the cause, he was also eager to obtain first-hand experience in order to fight segregation in the military. He attended the Officers Training School and the Administrative School in Iowa, but he was not commissioned as a second lieutenant as expected. His activism, especially his association with the NNC, was the probable reason. He nonetheless received an honorable discharge.

Upon his return to Philadelphia in 1943, Fauset continued his work to improve conditions for blacks. He joined the United Peoples’ Action Committee, a civil rights organization, and served as its chairman until 1946. He also edited The People’s Voice , a Philadelphia edition of the New York-based publication co-founded by Adam Clayton Powell.

After 1946, he traveled abroad, spending time in Europe and in Egypt. He lived for a year in Mexico, an experience which prepared him to educate Spanish speakers later. He lived in New York City beginning in the 1950s. In the era of McCarthyism, his association with the NNC and with the United Peoples’ Action Committee (also considered radical for the time) led to Fauset’s being expelled from the New York Public School system in 1960. Fauset continued to teach in New York, and that city was his home base into the 1960s and 1970s. However, he did not hold any long-term positions. It was during this period that he taught English at the Spanish American Institute. He also founded a school designed to teach English and business basics to Spanish speakers. Insufficiently funded, the school did not last long.

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