PULLMAN, Wash. – Nationally-known sociologist James E. Blackwell has been selected to receive Washington State University’s highest honor, the Regents Distinguished Alumnus Award. The announcement was made today (Jan. 25) at the Board of Regents meeting.
Blackwell was among WSU’s first black graduate students in sociology to earn a doctorate, completing his degree in 1959. The New Orleans resident plans to return to WSU April 15 to accept the award. He also has been invited to deliver an all-university address in Kimbrough Hall.
Karen DePauw, dean of the WSU Graduate School, said Blackwell’s selection was an appropriate one as the university celebrates its Century of Graduate Education.
Blackwell is a leading scholar in the areas of minorities in higher education and social movement in black communities. A 1986 study reported in Social Forces ranked him No. 5 among “black sociologists – (living or dead) who made the most significant contribution in the field.” He has written a number of books, including “The Black Community: Diversity and Unity,” which has gone through number of revisions. He also has been a consultant for the Today Show, major television networks and newspapers, and has testified as an expert witness in anti-segregation court cases.
After spending nearly 20 years at the University of Massachusetts in Boston, where he chaired the department of sociology, Blackwell retired as professor emeritus in 1989. At that time, he received the UM’s Chancellor’s Medal. And, the Blackwell Fellowship was established in his name to benefit graduate students in sociology whose work focuses on issues of minority group relations, racial equality and Third World Development.
Blackwell becomes the 31st recipient of WSU’s top award. It was established in 1961 to recognize individuals who have made distinguished contributions to society and through their personal achievements have brought distinction to WSU. Previous winners include broadcaster Edward R. Murrow; Philip Abelson, “Father of the Atomic Submarine, and his wife, Dr. Neva Martin Abelson, a physician who helped develop the Rh blood factor test; psychologist Laurence J. Peter, author of “The Peter Principle”; astronaut John Fabian; sociologist William Julius Wilson; and Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft.
After completing a bachelor’s degree and his master’s degree in sociology at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Blackwell was among nearly a dozen black graduate students in sociology recruited to WSU in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s to complete their doctorates. That group included Charles Ullman Smith, Anna Harvin Grant, Blackwell and William Julius Wilson, recipient of the Regents Distinguished Alumnus Award in 1988.
After earning his doctorate, Blackwell became president of the San Jose, Calif., chapter of the NAACP, 1962-63; directed Peace Corps operations in Africa and training in Milwaukee, 1963-66; and worked the U.S. Agency for International Development in Tanzania, Malawi and Nepal, 1966-69, before joining the University of Massachusetts.
During his WSU days, Blackwell served as president of the Associated Graduate Students of WSU, as president of the WSU student chapter of Alpha Kappa Delta, the national sociology honor society; and was president of South House, a residence hall. His earlier WSU awards honors include the College of Sciences and Liberal Arts Distinguished Achievement Award for Alumni, 1992, and the WSU Alumni Achievement Award, 1994.