A Short Biography of Dr. Robert Hughes Brisbane

Written by Dr. Tobe Johnson '51

Robert Hughes Brisbane was born in Jacksonville, Florida in 1913. Brisbane, however, was to become the quintessential New Yorker, his family having moved to that city in pursuit of a better life when he was little more than a toddler. Brisbane grew into young adulthood at the peak of the Harlem Renaissance. His family lived within easy walking distance of the famed 135th Street Y, in Harlem, and the young Brisbane found great pleasure in it. The Y was not only a fabulous place that brought him into daily contact with literary, artistic, and philosophical luminaries of the Harlem renaissance. His heroes were the intellectual and social activists of the period -- W.E.B. Dubois, James Weldon Johnson, William Monroe Trotter. Years later, he could converse at length about these men, keeping his listeners spellbound with first-hand knowledge, anecdotes, and unflinching opinion. those years in Harlem were formative experiences for the young Brisbane, and are reflected in his teaching, research, and social activism.

Brisbane earned his undergraduate degree from St. Johns University in 1939 with majors in English and History. Married to his childhood sweetheart, Kathryn, Brisbane worked full-time during his college years in the United States Post Office. Nevertheless, he managed to pursue an active student life, serving as a member of the student government and writing articles for a campus publication. In 1941, Brisbane was a supervisor at a defense plant in Bridgeport, Connecticut. One of his brothers also worked at the plant. The brothers somehow learned that black employees were being paid less than white employees for comparable work. Knowledge of the disparity aroused Brisbane's and his brother's sense of social justice. Brisbane, however, was not a passive intellectual; like his Harlem Renaissance intellectual heroes, he was also a social activist. To deal with the injustice, he and his brothers mobilized a black worker slowdown in the plant (it was illegal to strike during the war). This action brought about the desired outcome; the wage differential in the plant based on race was ended.

 The Bridgeport plant incident was not the only time that Brisbane participated in an effort to achieve racial justice for black workers during this time period. He participation in A. Phillip Randolph's movement that threated to march on Washington in 1942, at the beginning of World War II. Randolph demanded that President Franklin D. Roosevelt implement racially fair employment and contract practices in the defense industry, and warned Roosevelt that he intended to march on Washington if the President did not accede to the demand. Although the march did not take place, in part because the President responded positively to Randolph's demands by issuing a fair employment executive order, Brisbane believed that the threatened march was a precursor of the racial non-violent movement in the United States.

Brisbane did his graduate work at Harvard University. The PhD program at Harvard was what is today referred to as traditional political science, which had as its core the formal institutions of government and political philosophy. The curriculum was congenial to Brisbane, who had a strong literary and historical grounding. One of his friends at Harvard was John Hope Franklin, who was working on his PhD degree in history. The scholar whom Brisbane referred to most often in the classes the writer took from in the 1950s was Arnold B. Toynbee (A Study of History). Brisbane was also influenced by the eminent political philosopher, Charles McIlwain. The political science curriculum that Brisbane later established at Morehouse reflected the influence of his Harvard years, as might have been expected, and of his love of institutions and history. Interestingly, Brisbane did not write his dissertation about institutions of government, but chose instead to write about black political and social activists of the Harlem Renaissance. The dissertation was supervised by Ralph Bunche, and Brisbane received his PhD degree in Government from Harvard in 1948.

After receiving his degree from Harvard, Brisbane sought in vain to find a university teaching position in the North. In later years, he often spoke about his disappointment at not being offered such a position when he saw white alums from his Harvard class receiving appointments to the most prestigious universities and colleges in the nation. Ultimately, Brisbane accepted an offer of President Benjamin E. Mays to teach at Morehouse College. But he accepted the offer reluctantly as a temporary expedient, still hoping to find a teaching position in his beloved North. Such an opportunity was not forthcoming during Brisbane's first fifteen or more years at Morehouse, however, and by the time that the Black Student revolution in the 1960s made positions in white universities and colleges a serious option for him, he was in his fifties and too settled at Morehouse to leave.

 When Brisbane arrived at Morehouse in 1948, he found a very vibrant institution, which was recovering from the depressing effects of World War II, under the leadership of Benjamin E. Mays, Morehouse, and remains, an all-male school (Some women graduate from the college during the depression of the 1930s). The war virtually decimated the college's student enrollment. To offset the hemorrhaging of its students to the war, Dr. Mays inaugurated an early admissions program, supported in part by the Ford Foundation. The program enrolled academically high achieving students who had completed their tenth grade of secondary school. Among this group of fifteen-year olds in 1944 was Martin Luther King, Jr., who graduated from Morehouse in the spring of 1948, several months before Brisbane began his teaching career at the college. Besides the young student scholars like King, Morehouse, in 1948, also enrolled a large number of World War II veterans, who were both returning and first-time Morehouse students. These mature students were serious about learning and completing their college education. There were also traditional students at the college like Leronne Bennet, long-time editor of Ebony Magazine, and author of books on African American history, and Leroy Johnson, the first African American elected to the Georgia State Senator, and now a federal district judge, and other students anxiously awaited the new instructor from "Ha-vard" (as he pronounced Harvard) who was to teach them something called political science. The mix of students -- early admission scholars, war veterans, traditional students -- made the college an exciting place in the late 1940s. Brisbane was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the students in his first classes, and he often spoke proudly about them in subsequent years.

As mentioned above, the political science curriculum that Brisbane established at Morehouse was oriented along the lines of the traditional program in government at Harvard. Courses in the curriculum included American Government, Comparative European Governments, parties, and the Federal Judiciary. The program was anchored by a two-semester course in political philosophy, the first covering European political philosophy from the Greeks to Locke, and the second semester dealing with late eighteenth century, and early twentieth century writers. He also instituted and taught a course on the political and intellectual history of the United States.

 Until the Nineteen Sixties, Brisbane taught all of the political science courses offered at Morehouse. HIs strength as a teacher was his formidable intellect and tightly organized, lucid lectures -- interwoven with humor that could sometimes be biting as well as scintillating. For generations, he captivated students in his classes with his wonderful ability to elucidate complex social, political, and historical processes in a way he should limit his teaching load to one course a year. The course that he chose to continue teaching was the Black Protest, an offering that he developed in the early 1970s, in conjunction with his first book, The Black Vanguard. He loved teaching Black Protest, and the students reciprocated by making that elective the most popular course in the department.

The political science major at Morehouse was initially established as a program in the Department of History. By the 1950s, the department had evolved into a joint History/Political Science department with a historian as the chair. The number of students attracted to the political science major, by that time, however, exceeded those in history by far. The attraction to political science as a major was in large part attributable to the student view that the discipline was a good major for those interested in matriculating in law schools after graduating from the college. It was also due, no doubt, to the popularity of Brisbane's courses. For Bris -- as his students affectionately called him -- had very quickly become one of the college's star teachers. It was perhaps inevitable that political science would in time become a department independent of the Department of History because of the former program's perpetually larger student clientele. Friction between the two academic programs housed in the Department of History existed; it was muted but apparent to the students. Still, the fateful separation of the political science program from the History Department did not occur until 1964, by which time the political science staff consisted of a Harvard PhD, a Johns Hopkins PhD, and a Columbia PhD, in contrast to the Chicago PhD who was chair of the Department, and one of two full-time history teachers. Brisbane, who had long sought to have the college establish a department of political science, was appointed to chair the newly created department in 1964.

 Although Brisbane devoted most of his life to teaching at a small predominantly black liberal arts college in the South, he was a cosmopolitan rather than a local (Merton 1948). As a Fulbright Senior Professor and noted lecturer, Brisbane taught at Patna University in India. He lectured on American government and the social and intellectual history of the United States at various times in Africa, Europe, and Asia. With his wife, Kathryn, Brisbane "made extensive tours of the Soviet Union, China, Israel, England, Holland, Senegal, the Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria, Ethiopia, West Germany, Austria, Yugoslavia, Italy, France, Spain, and Switzerland, often as the guest of the government" (Obituary, p3). Brisbane directed the India component of the Spelman-Morehouse Non-Western Studies Program, between 1955 and 1958.

 The Atlanta Black community was a hotbed of political activity when Brisbane arrived in the city in 1948. The political activism of the Black community had been stimulated by the U.S. Supreme Court ruling four years earlier (Smith v. Allwright) that outlawed the white primary. Shortly after arriving in Atlanta, Brisbane became deeply involved in the political scene. For years prior to 1948, the two major Black community-wide organizations had been split into two political camps, one Republican and the other Democrat. Brisbane (and other intellectual activists in the Atlanta University Center) played a large role in persuading the two organizations to merge into one community-wide political organization, the Atlanta Negro Voters League. The impact of the merger on government and politics in Atlanta was almost immediate. At least since 1936, Black leaders had requested the city to employ Blacks on the police force. The requests were routinely ignored by the city until 1947, when the incumbent mayor challenged Black leaders to produce 10,000 registered Black voters. If the requisite number of Blacks were registered to vote, the mayor told black leaders, his administration would hire Blacks for the police force. Within one year, the Atlanta Negro Voters League, in conjunction with the churches and other Black organizations, produced 25,000 registered voters. The mayor subsequently recruited eight black men for the city's police force. Between 1949 and 1965, the Atlanta Negro Voters League was the principal voice of the African American community in political negotiations with the two mayors who served during those years, and with the downtown business leaders. The League was the major Black players in Atlanta's urban regime (Stone 1988).

 Brisbane continued to actively participate in the civic and governmental affairs of the city and county for the rest of his life. He played a major role in the successful efforts of blacks to have Fulton County employ Blacks in the position of deputy sheriffs of the jurisdiction. He was consulted regularly by Blacks seeking political office in the city, county, and state, and he played a key role in the election of the first Black person to the City's independent board of education. Brisbane was a longtime appointee to the Fulton County Civil Service of Fulton County, he chaired, the Civil Service Commission of the Atlanta Board of Education, and the Personnel Board of Fulton County.

An important, if not the most important, measure of an academic is his legacy of scholarship. Over a long professional career, Brisbane wrote many scholarly articles and occasional pieces for the Journal of Negro History and elite circulation weeklies, such as the \textit{New Republic}. Between 1972 and 1976, he was a member of the editorial staff of the Encyclopedia Britannica. His most important scholarship, however, is to be found in two books, published by the Judson Press. The books are the Black Vanguard (1969), and Black Activism (1974). These two books, in most respects, can be seen as an extension and update of his thoughts about black protests, first set forth in his Harvard thesis, "The Rise of Protest Movements Among Negroes Since 1900" (1948). These works are essentially historical in orientation. In this trilogy of works, Brisbane examined the phenomenon of black protests in the United States from the turn of the 20th century until the early 1970s, placing them conceptually in the stream of protests that began with the first major Black protest in 1795 (Brisbane 1974, 11). Before examining the works themselves, it might be helpful in thinking about Brisbane to consider them in the context of his background experience.

Brisbane was fifty-six years of age when he wrote the \textit{Black Vanguad}, and sixty when he wrote Black Activism. He had completed his dissertation in 1948, at age thirty-five, more than two decades before writing the Vanguard. It would not overstate the matter to say that these two books are an extension and update of his dissertation. At least two interesting observations can be made about this fact. The first is that Brisbane's intellectually formative experiences in the milieu of the Harlem Renaissance were important and continuing determinants of the nature and direction that his scholarship would take. His decision to do his PhD dissertation on Black protests, even though his course work in government at Harvard was not even remotely related to that subject matter, is evidence that supports this view. Moreover, as noted above, Ralph Bunch, who was then at the United Nations, was one of the principal sponsors of Brisbane's dissertation. Second, Brisbane returned to the problem of Black protests and achieved the highest level of his scholarship in that subject area more than two decades after he had received his terminal degree from Harvard. His resumption of serious scholarship in the late 1960s on the Black protest problem was no doubt motivated by the Civil Rights Movement, which he called the "Black Revolution, 1955-1970" (Brisbane 1974, 11). It is also an indication of his lifelong intellectual preoccupation with this phenomenon, which began in his formative years in Harlem.

The present writer would characterize Brisbane as a social realist and skeptic. Brisbane brought to his analysis of Black protests a deep knowledge of history, and a discerning insight into contemporary Black politics. He believed that Blacks in the United States are, on the whole, social conservatives, in the sense that they support the basic ideals of American democracy, if not always its actual practices. Brisbane pointed to the failure of communism to appeal to a significant numbers of Blacks in the 1930s and 1940s as an example of black conservatism. And he argued that the leaders of the potential radicals, and therefore were susceptible to the Marxist appeals and doctrine. The truth, Brisbane believed, is that "The Negro is not a potential radical, and reason or logical cannot make him one...They have steadfastly held on to the conviction that a redress of the ills which beset them is to be attained within the framework of American democracy, and by time-honored methods" (Brisbane 1969, 156).

 Based on what has been written in the preceding paragraph, some readers might be inclined to characterize Brisbane out of hand as a conservative social thinker. But Brisbane's thoughts and analyses were too thoughtful and measured for such a facile categorization. Returning to the example above of the Communist Party's efforts to woo Blacks, Brisbane also documents the positive effects of these efforts as well as the failure noted above. He credits the communist with hardening the "militancy of the protest movement as a whole," and doing much "in the long run to reinvigorate Negro protest organizations" (Brisbane, 157-158). A second example of Brisbane's thoughtful and measured approach to his subject matter can be seen in his treatment of Marcus Garvey. Brisbane disdained Garvey's personae, referring to some of his behavior as clownish. He also found it "difficult to believe that a man credited with Garvey's intelligence could have believed in the pipe dream with which he intoxicated his followers" (Brisbane 1969, 90). Yet, Brisbane acknowledged that "Garveyism was the first genuine mass movement to take place among American Negroes" (Brisbane 1969, 97). More significantly, perhaps, Brisbane credits Garveyism with contributing importantly to the growth among Black poets, writers, and artists of the appreciation of things African. Thus the "Negro Renaissance reached its full flowing during the high tide of the Garvey movement. In the field of literature young Negro writers and poets (e.g. Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen) turned to the Dark Continent for the subject of new verses," (Brisbane 1969, 97). Furthermore, the impact of Garveyism on Black pride and "things black and African fathered a drive on the part of the Negro press to substitute the term 'black men' for colored men and Afro-American for 'American Negro'" (Brisbane 1969, 98).

 Henry Adams observed in his autobiography, \textit{The Education of Henry Adams}, that "A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops." It is true that we cannot know where Brisbane's influence on his students ultimately will stop, but we can see it in their achievements for more than five decades. His influence on his students was both intellectual and inspirational. For examples, Hanes Walton, Jr., professor of political science at the University of Michigan, has attested to Brisbane's influence on his intellectual development in virtually every one or the dozen or more books that he has authored or co-authored. One of the most productive contemporary political scientists, Walton credits Brisbane with inducting him into the discipline and inspiring him to pursue a career in it. The present writer was also persuaded of the worthiness of a career in political science as a student sitting in Brisbane's classes. Professor Elliott Banks at Virginia Commonwealth, Abraham Davis, at Morehouse, Professor Lawrence Hanks at the University of Indiana, Weldon Jackson, and Alvin Thornton all were Brisbane's protégés who chose careers in political science. Some of Brisbane's former students chose academic careers in fields other than political science. For example, Robert Franklin earned his doctorate in theology at Harvard and is now a professor of religion at Emory University, after having served as the president of the International Theological Center and Morehouse College. Russell Adams, another Brisbane protégé, received his doctorate from the University of Chicago, and teaches at Howard University. Brisbane influenced all of these men to emulate him as a teachers and researcher, whether in political science or other academic disciplines.

 By far, the largest proportion of Brisbane's former students became attorneys at law rather than academics. Many of these lawyers chose to become public servants. Two of his students from the class of 1949 became the first two African American senators in the Georgia General Assembly since Reconstruction. Brisbane was a close political advisor to these two young men. One of them, Horace Ward, became the first African American appointed to the Federal District Courts in Georgia. Two other Brisbane protégés serve on Federal District Courts, one in Seattle and the other in Boston. As well, a number of Brisbane's former students sit on state and local judicial benches throughout the United States.

 Brisbane's former students are also to be found in the legislative and executive branches of governments at all levels in the United States. Three of the the thirty-nine members of the Congressional Black Caucus were his former students in the 2000-2002 session of Congress. (One of these three members lost his bid for reelection in the 2002 mid-term races.) Julian Bond, the president of the NAACP, and one of the founders of the Student None Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), served two terms in the Georgia State Senate. Brisbane was one of Bond's mentors, though Bond majored in English.

 Space does not permit a description of the many other elected and appointed officials who pay homage to Brisbane as their former mentor. I will conclude this description of his intellectual and inspirational influence on his students with a brief reference to one of the most notable of them, the late Maynard Holbrook Jackson. Maynard Jackson was elected to the office of mayor of the city of Atlanta in 1973. He was the first African American elected mayor of a major southern city. Among Jackson's many contributions to the art of municipal governance, his implementation of a minority contract compliance program -- which became a model for such programs throughout the United States -- is generally regarded as his single most significant achievement. Jackson, who entered Morehouse at fifteen years of age, was mentored and advised by Brisbane. As was the case with virtually all of the College's political science alumni who sought to run for elective office in Georgia, Jackson sought and heeded the advice of his old mentor, Robert Brisbane.

 Jackson was the keynote-speaker on two milestone occasions honoring Brisbane in the latter years of his career. The first was in 1984 when he retired as chair of the Department of Political Science after serving twenty years in that position. The second was on the event of his birthday in 1993. In acknowledging his indebtedness to his former teacher on both occasions, Jackson spoke passionately of having learned from Brisbane why African Americans should involve themselves in the civic and political life of their communities. Although the office of mayor of the City of Atlanta was not available to African Americans in 1956 when Jackson graduate from Morehouse, he never forgot the vision of public life that Brisbane had set forth before his classes when he was a student, and he reminded his audience of that in his homage to Brisbane.

 At the same 1984 testimonial honoring Brisbane, at which Maynard Jackson had spoken so eloquently about his former teacher and mentor, the late Dr. Hugh M. Gloster, President Emeritus of Morehouse, in a written tribute to Brisbane, asked rhetorically, "Who would have dreamed in 1948 that this department would have produced more Black PhDs, lawyers, judges, and government officials than any private college in the country?"