Lewis Wade Jones

Lewis Wade Jones (1910-1979) was a rural sociologist, social scientist, and instructor for many years at Tuskegee Institute in Tuskegee, Macon County, who would work alongside pioneering sociologists in the mid-twentieth century. His research into African American political and social involvement in the rural South and Alabama was most notably chronicled in his highly regarded Cold Rebellion: The South’s Oligarchy in Revolt and Demography of Disadvantage in Alabama. This work led to him becoming the director of the Tuskegee Institute’s Rural Development Center from 1966 until his death in 1979.

Jones was born on March 13, 1910, in Cuero, Texas, to schoolteachers Wade E. and Lucynthia McDade Jones; he had two siblings. Lewis began his collegiate education at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. Earning his bachelor of arts degree in 1931 at the age of 21, Jones started graduate school the same year. He next attended the University of Chicago, where he was named a Social Science Research Council Fellow and earned his master’s degree. After two years of coursework, Jones returned to Fisk University, where he developed a strong working relationship with Charles S. Johnson, a faculty member, civil rights activist, and sociologist who had also studied at the University of Chicago. At Fisk, Jones was an active member in the Omega Psi Phi fraternity.

Jones left Fisk University to further his education at New York’s Columbia University, where he earned a master’s degree in 1939 as a Julius Rosenwald Foundation Fellow. His master’s thesis, which led to his future research pursuits, was titled, “Occupational Stratification Among Rural and Small Town Negroes Before the Civil War and Today.” After his return to Fisk as a social science instructor, Jones participated in a group collaboration project known as the “Preliminary Report: A Study of the Menifee Community Conway County, Ark.” The group studied and documented the folk culture of African Americans in the Mississippi Delta region. The study included two years of demographic analysis, cultural observance, and recording folk music. From 1941-42, Jones worked with Fisk University faculty to preserve their recordings and findings. The researchers had recorded folk songs in Fort Valley, Georgia, and the results of their work became a part of the Archive of American Folk Song (now the Archive of Folk Culture) at the Library of Congress. A field study that was to accompany the project was never completed and remained little known until it was chronicled by other researchers in Lost Delta Found: Rediscovering the Fisk University-Library of Congress Coahoma County Study, 1941-1942 in 2005.

By 1943, Jones was in the U.S. Army, where his education and skills earned him a job as an analyst for the Bureau of Special Services and the U.S. Office of War Information. After his service, Jones became an associate editor of the Negro Yearbook. The work originated from the original research and compilation of sources by sociologist Monroe N. Work, a faculty member at Tuskegee Institute and a fellow alumnus of the University of Chicago. Jones returned to Columbia for his doctoral work, earning a Ph.D. in sociology in 1955.

Jones then became a full-time faculty member at the Tuskegee Institute (present-day Tuskegee University), as an assistant professor. He later became a full professor thanks in large part to his extensive work and widely praised research. He became a delegate in the Extramural Studies Department associated with Oxford University. Furthermore, Jones also won two W. E. B. Du Bois awards from the Association of Social and Behavioral Scientists for his research.

Focusing on race relations and rural society, his most highly regarded work was Cold Rebellion (1962). In it, Jones analyzed the sociopolitical dynamics occurring in the segregated South during the Jim Crow era. One of Jones’s key conclusions was regarding the way in which federal officials did not ably confront civil rights violations, employment limitations, and disenfranchisement in segregated states. Looking at Alabama, Jones argued that the Democratic Party had essentially a one-party grip on state politics. It controlled all levels of local municipalities, which gave the party an outsized influence on the state’s sociocultural development. And, Alabama’s congressional delegation did not represent a majority its citizens, but rather the political status quo. Ultimately, Jones argued that a top-down oligarchy in southern politics was not based on tradition or customs as much as individual choices made by contemporary political leaders who then could prevent change and enforce racial status quos that helped maintain segregation.

In 1966, Jones became director of the Tuskegee Institute Rural Development Center and remained its head until his death. Black farmers and rural inhabitants were areas of personal and academic interest for Jones, and he served as a board member for multiple organizations that assisted rural communities as well as sharecroppers and migrant children. As a member of Tuskegee’s agricultural research team, he worked oversees with the U.S. Agency for International Development. Also in 1966, on August 13 Jones married Queen E. Shootes, who studied consumer sciences. She died in 1969 and was buried in Tuskegee.

Jones also wrote detailed works on population, farming, and family dynamics in the Alabama Black Belt. His notable publications on these topics included The Changing Status of the Negro in Southern Agriculture (1950), Demography of Disadvantage in Alabama (1975), and Informal Adoption in Black Families in Lowndes and Wilcox Counties, Alabama (1975). Indeed, he was a prolific researcher and author and was also published in the Journal of Negro Education, the Negro Yearbook, and Rural Sociology. Some works, however, had very limited publication and distribution and are difficult to find. Tuskegee University has several digitized copies of the Negro Yearbook, but only some editions. Because of his experience and knowledge, Jones was also a consultant to the U.S. Department of Labor and the Bureau of Social Science Research.

Jones died on September 20, 1979, and was buried in the Tuskegee University campus cemetery.

Selected works

The Cotton Community Changes, with Ernest E. Neal (1951)

Cold Rebellion: The South’s Oligarchy in Revolt (1962)

Demography of Disadvantage in Alabama, with Handy Williamson, Jr. (1975)

Further Reading

  • Breathett, Geoge, and Daniel T. Williams. “In Memoriam: Lewis Wade Jones,” Journal of Negro History 66 (Spring 1981): 85.
  • Work, John W., Lewis Wade Jones, and Samuel C. Adams. Lost Delta Found: Rediscovering the Fisk University-Library of Congress Coahoma County Study, 1941-1942. Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 2021.

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Lewis Wade Jones

Photo courtesy of the Tuskegee University Archives
Lewis Wade Jones