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“The social responsibility of the administrator”: Mordecai Wyatt Johnson and the dilemma of Black leadership, 1890–1976

Thomas John Edge, University of Massachusetts Amherst


During the first half of the twentieth century, Mordecai Wyatt Johnson was one of the most notable leaders and orators in the African American community. He was best known as the first Black president of Howard University, a post he held from 1926 to 1960. But throughout this public life, he was also a forceful defender of Black civil rights, a vocal critic of colonialism in Africa and Asia, and an opponent of American militarism during the Cold War. This dissertation examines the intersections between Johnson's roles as an educator at a federally-funded Black institution and his political stances on behalf of civil rights, economic justice, and self-determination. In particular, it seeks to determine the extent to which the competing demands from Johnson's various constituencies—White federal officials, Howard University students, faculty and alumni, the larger African American community, and other Black leaders—affected the expression of his political ideas during his tenure as Howard president. Given Johnson's long public career as a Baptist preacher, civil rights activist, orator, and educator, this dissertation will examine a number of important themes, including the role of the Black church in early civil rights movements; the effect of anti-Communism on African American protest; academic freedom in historically-Black colleges and universities; African American perspectives on United States foreign policy; and the impact of White funding on Black institutions of higher education. In this manner, the career of Mordecai Johnson is used to illustrate a number of important themes in the development of Black political movements from the 1910s through the 1960s.

Subject Area

Biographies|Black studies|Black history|American history|Education history

Recommended Citation

Edge, Thomas John, "“The social responsibility of the administrator”: Mordecai Wyatt Johnson and the dilemma of Black leadership, 1890–1976" (2008). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3325148.