Membership of Black Professors and the Annual Meeting

The AAUP during the segregation era.
By Hans-Joerg Tiede

From its founding in 1915 through the 1920s, the AAUP’s membership was largely male and exclusively white, mainly because the AAUP limited membership to faculty members from certain classes of colleges and universities, a decision that excluded from membership many women faculty members and essentially all Black faculty members. The Association’s policy of accepting membership applications only from faculty members at accredited institutions had a particularly disparate impact on Black professors.

To the extent that African Americans had opportunities to serve as faculty members before World War II, they typically were able to do so only at the institutions that we now refer to as historically Black colleges and universities, which were predominantly located in the South. Since the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), the regional accrediting agency for the southern states, refused to accredit Black colleges and universities until the end of the 1920s, their faculty members could not join the Association. The AAUP’s restriction of membership to accredited institutions consequently reinforced the discriminatory treatment of African Americans by SACS.1

By the mid-1930s, after SACS had agreed to accredit Black colleges and universities (although with levels of accreditation distinct from those that applied to white institutions), Black faculty members began to join the AAUP and formed local chapters. During this period an applicant for membership had to secure nominations from three members, a requirement that, again, created hurdles for Black professors, because AAUP members in their vicinity were typically white and not always willing to nominate them. The AAUP’s professional staff, who in those days were also AAUP members, would occasionally themselves nominate Black candidates when they were unable to find others to do so.2

Although Black members of the AAUP in the 1930s and 1940s paid the same dues as white members, they did not enjoy the same membership rights, because the AAUP sometimes held its annual meetings in the Jim Crow South. This practice limited the ability of Black faculty members to attend, an issue that contributed to W. E. B. Du Bois’s public resignation from the AAUP in 1945 (see Andrew J. Douglas’s article elsewhere in this issue for further discussion of Du Bois’s membership in the Association).

In 1936, the annual meeting was held in Richmond, Virginia. When the AAUP’s national office learned that a delegate from Howard University had registered, AAUP general secretary Ralph Himstead forwarded him a letter from the chair of the local organizing committee: “To avoid any possible misunderstanding, I think I should pass on to you certain information which the chairman of our local committee gave us regarding customs which might affect any negro delegates in attendance. You are, I think, fully conversant with southern customs, laws, and ordinances.” The enclosed letter informed the delegate of the address of a “Negro Hotel,” in case he wanted to stay there, as well as of existing arrangements for him in the dormitory of a local Black university. The letter also advised him that there would be “complimentary tickets to the two luncheons and the dinner” for him to collect at the registration desk. However, in apparent expectation that a Black person asking for such tickets at the registration desk of a white hotel might experience difficulties, the committee chair urged, “Ask for me if I’m not in sight when you speak of these."3

Three years later, when the annual meeting was held in New Orleans, the Howard University chapter wrote General Secretary Himstead, asking, “In the event that the local committee has accepted any different treatment for the colored delegates, will you be kind enough to tell me what steps the national organization has taken to assure to its colored members equal treatment?” Himstead responded by quoting from a letter he had received from the manager of the hotel at which the meeting was being held: “We have no objection to the colored members of your organization sitting in your business meetings. It will, however, be necessary that they use the same service entrance as all colored help working in the hotel. All of our waiters are white men, and it would simply be out of the question for us to serve colored persons under any circumstances. It is something that is just not done down here.” Himstead added, “The regulations indicated by the Manager of the Jung Hotel do not differ greatly from those prevailing at hotels in other cities where our Association has met in recent years. Similar regulations prevail at hotels in St. Louis, Missouri; Indianapolis, Indiana; and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Similar restrictions prevail in Washington, D.C. . . . I am very sorry about these restrictions and personally am not in sympathy with them, but, as you know, they still reflect existing mores on this subject.4

The chapter declined to send delegates to the meeting in response to this “insulting and degrading treatment” and arranged for multiple telegrams to be sent to Himstead protesting the arrangement. Himstead referred these to the AAUP’s national Council, which decided unanimously that future annual meetings would not be held at segregated hotels. Evidently lacking the courage of its convictions, however, the Council decided not to publish this decision in the Bulletin “lest publication should stir up any controversy among southern white members of the A.A.U.P.,” but the decision was communicated to the Howard chapter and to W. E. B. Du Bois through his local chapter at Atlanta University.5 Thus, when Du Bois subsequently resigned from the AAUP in protest of a meeting of chapters held in a Washington, DC, hotel that refused entrance to African Americans, he had reason to believe that the Council had already violated its new policy, although that policy applied specifically to the annual meeting.

The policy of requiring nominations for membership ended in 1959. Whether by that date the Council had lived up to its resolution on the use of segregated hotels is not clear. After World War II and before 1964, when the Supreme Court confirmed the prohibition against refusing hotel service based on race, the Association held annual meetings in such places as St. Louis, Washington, DC, and Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Records from that period do not appear to offer indications as to the availability of the accommodations for Black members at those meetings or of complaints about the choice of hotels. It is evident, however, that the Council had not forgotten its resolution against holding annual meetings at segregated hotels, since it declined an invitation to hold the 1956 meeting in Kentucky for that reason. Yet it had decided to hold the previous year’s meeting in Gatlinburg. In justifying the choice of location during the Council meeting, a chapter member from the University of Tennessee had claimed that there was “no segregation there,” which beggars belief.6

Hans-Joerg Tiede is a senior program officer at the AAUP.


1. James D. Miller, A Centennial History of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, 1895–1995 (Decatur, GA: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools), 107–54.

2. See, for example, the correspondence in the folder for Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute in “Institution Files, circa pre-1950–circa 1989,” American Association of University Professors Papers, University Archives, Special Collections Research Center, George Washington University.

3. Correspondence in the folder for Howard University in “Institution Files, circa pre-1950–circa 1989,” American Association of University Professors Papers, University Archives, Special Collections Research Center, Gelman Library, George Washington University.

4. Ibid.

5. Rushton Coulborn to the members of the American Association of University Professors at Atlanta University, 1939, W. E. B. Du Bois Papers (MS 312), Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries.

6. Transcripts of the April 1954 and March 1995 Council meetings, American Association of University Professors Papers, University Archives, Special Collections Research Center, George Washington University.