Sociologist, civil rights activist, bibliographer, historian, theologian
Monroe’s contributions span for a lifetime in the history of the United States. He took part in reconstructing African American lives after the civil war. He saw their needs and embraced them. Monroe made efforts to advance African American political and economic influence in attaining higher civilization.
Monroe Nathan Work was born on August 15, 1866, in Iredell County, North Carolina. His ex-slave parents, Alexander Work and Eliza Hobbs’ pursued farming. His grandfather, Henry Work, a brick mason in Michigan, was emancipated in North Carolina before 1847. He bought a farm and purchased freedom for his family. Alexander Work was among the children Henry left in North Carolina.
Monroe had ten siblings, and he was the youngest. After Monroe’s birth, Alexander moved to a farm and worked as a livestock trader in Cairo, Illinois. His family joined him in Cairo in 1867.
Monroe started his primary education in Cairo. He completed his elementary education after his family moved to a farm near Arkansas City, Kansas, in 1876.
In 1889, when his mother died, Monroe could not go ahead with school. He dropped out to run the farm because his father fell ill and moved in with his married sibling.
Monroe resumed his studies at a high school in Arkansas City in 1889. At age 23, he received his first degree. He was outstanding in class performance and graduated at the top of his class.
Because of limited opportunities for African Americans, Monroe enrolled in Chicago Theological Seminary in 1894. He graduated in 1898.
Afterward, he joined the University of Chicago to pursue sociology. In 1902, he received a Bachelor of Philosophy and, in 1903, a Master of Arts degree in sociology.
On 27 Dec. 1904, Monroe married Florence Evelyn Hendrickson of Savannah. The couple had no children who lived beyond infancy.
Between 1903 and 1908, Monroe worked at Georgia State Industrial College as a history and pedagogy instructor and later became a professor.
In July 1905, W. E. B. Du Bois invited Monroe to attend the anti-Washington Niagara Movement conference. Monroe worked with that movement between 1905 and 1910.
To improve the living standards of the African Americans in the city, Monroe started the Savannah Men’s Sunday Club (1905-1911).
Booker T. Washington gave Monroe an invitation to join the faculty of Tuskegee Institute. Monroe became the first man to work with both Washington and DuBois.
In 1908, Monroe became the founding director of the Records and Research Department in Washington’s Tuskegee Institute. He advanced empirical research into African American experience. He established the Tuskegee University Archives, African American leading history repository.
In 1915, Monroe and Washington pioneered the National Negro Health Week observed until 1951. By 1924, the lifespan of African Americans had increased by two years.
In 1922, he sent reports to over 2,000 newspapers, including the Atlanta Constitution and the Chattanooga Free Press.
In the early 1930s, the federal Public Health Service adopted Monroe’s model and hygiene publications. Monroe Work retired in 1938.
Monroe began a career in research and publication on Negro history and sociology. He became the first African American to publish a scholarly article, “The Negro and Crime in Chicago.”, In September 1900. The article was published in the American Journal of Sociology.
The annual Negro Year Book, first published by Monroe in 1912, detailed the early 20th century African American life.
In 1928, Monroe published a Bibliography with over 17,000 entries about the Negro in Africa and America. Many scholars and laypeople fascinated by the African American lifestyle became attracted to this book.
Monroe was a scholar who published in big style during his lifetime. He published nine editions of the Negro Year Book, 66 lynching reports, and over 70 articles.
Awards and Honors
In 1918, Monroe joined the leading black learned society called American Negro Academy. Because of his excellent research and publications, Monroe received the Harmon Award in 1928.
In 1942, he received the University of Chicago Alumni Citation award, and in 1943, he earned the Doctor of Literature degree from Howard University. Monroe’s portrait was painted for the American Negro Citizens Series in 1942 by Mrs. Betsy Graves Reyneau.
Monroe enjoyed membership of various vital associations such as the American Association for Advancement of Science, American Economic Association, American Sociological Society, International Institute of American Language and Culture, American Academy of Political and Social Science, Southern Sociological Society, Southern Economic Association, Association of Southern Women, the YMCA and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Death of Unsung Hero
Monroe Work died of natural causes at Tuskegee on May 2, 1945, at 78. Ten years later, his wife Florence Hendrickson Work died on June 27, 1955.
Monroe Nathan Work may not have been acknowledged by name, but he made history in the Negro society. The fruits of his labor remain recognized through Booker T. Washington and Du Bois’ writing. Through them, Monroe’s voice resonates distinctly and profoundly. Monroe created a mosaic of the Negro and challenged the conscience of the United States of America.
The Black Male Archives Team