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Charles Willie

Educator and social activist Charles Vert Willie was born in Dallas, Texas, on October 8, 1927. Willie attended Morehouse College and graduated in 1948. The following year, he received a master's degree from Atlanta University and in 1957, he obtained a Ph.D. in sociology at Syracuse University. At Syracuse University, Willie served as chair of the Department of Sociology and Vice President of the University, at a time when African Americans were not holding such positions. He then was hired by Harvard University in 1974 where he served as the Charles William Eliot Professor of Education at the Graduate School of Education.

Charles Willie is one of the nation's leading black sociologists. His expertise is in the area of school desegregation. Accordingly, Willie served as a court-appointed master, expert witness, and consultant in many school desegregation cases. In 1975, Willie served as a court appointed master in the Boston school desegregation case and later was retained to develop a controlled choice student assignment plan for Boston and several school districts. He was recognized in 1983 with the Society for the Study of Social Problems' Lee-Founders Award for effectively combining social research and social activism.

Willie is an applied sociologist concerned with solving social problems. Willie is the author or editor of more than 25 books and articles covering topics such as: race relations, urban education, public health, community development, family life, and women's rights. His books include A New Look at Black Families (1976), The Education of African-Americans (1991), Theories of Human Social Action (1994), and Mental Health, Racism and Sexism (1995). Willie has served as Vice President of the American Sociological Association and as President of the Eastern Sociological Society. In addition, he has served on the board of directors of the Social Science Research Council; the technical advisory board of the Maurice Falk Medical Fund; and, by the appointment of President Carter, the President's Commission on Mental Health.

Willie recently retired from Harvard University's Graduate School of Education and was awarded emeritus status by the faculty.

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N.W. Harllee Elementary School

Lincoln High School

Morehouse College

Clark Atlanta University

Syracuse University

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Adirondack Mountains, New Hampshire

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Short Description

Sociologist and education professor Charles Willie (1927 - ) is an expert in the area of school desegregation. Willie served as a court-appointed master, expert witness, and consultant in many school desegregation cases. Willie is an applied sociologist and the author or editor of more than twenty-five books and articles covering topics such as race relations, urban education, public health, community development, family life, and women's rights.


Syracuse University

Harvard University

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Timing Pairs

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Charles Willie interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Charles Willie lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Charles Willie recalls his family background and pursuit of education

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Charles Willie describes his parents

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Charles Willie explains his parents' reluctance to talk about the past

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Charles Willie recounts his parents' courtship and marriage

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Charles Willie remembers growing up with his siblings

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Charles Willie shares childhood memories

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Charles Willie recalls his father's work as a Pullman Porter

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Charles Willie describes himself as a youth

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Charles Willie reflects on his siblings and his relationships with them

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Charles Willie details his school experiences

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Charles Willie discusses his brothers' college experiences

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Charles Willie lists his siblings' musical interests

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Charles Willie recounts his experience at Morehouse College

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Charles Willie recalls his Morehouse College experiences

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Charles Willie describes Martin Luther King, Jr. as a Morehouse College student

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Charles Willie lists his famous classmates at Morehouse College

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Charles Willie details his experience at Syracuse University

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Charles Willie discusses his strong sense of self and grounding in the black community

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Charles Willie recalls confronting racism in Syracuse University athletics

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Charles Willie details how he handled 1960s student protests

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Charles Willie explains how he landed a teaching position at Harvard University

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Charles Willie recounts teaching at Harvard University and Episcopal Divinity School

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Charles Willie discusses his activism on behalf of female Episcopal priests

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Charles Willie describes his involvement in school desegregation programs

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Charles Willie expresses his views on desegregation

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Charles Willie discusses the sociological need for diversity

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Charles Willie outlines his sociological theories

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Charles Willie recounts his greatest achievements

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Charles Willie reflects on his parents' influence on his career

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Charles Willie expresses his concerns for the black community

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Charles Willie ponders his legacy

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Photo - Charles Willie with his students, Syracuse, New York, 1952

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Photo - Charles Willie, Dallas, Texas, 1983

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Photo - Charles Willie with Belford Lawson and his Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity brothers, Atlanta, Georgia, 1947

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Photo - Charles Willie with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Syracuse, New York, 1961

Tape: 5 Story: 11 - Photo - Charles Willie with Benjamin Elijah Mays and Willie Davis, Boston, Massachusetts, ca. 1979

Tape: 5 Story: 12 - Photo - Charles Willie with Bernard Kramer, Bertram Brown, and Philip Hallen, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, ca. 1969

Tape: 5 Story: 13 - Photo - Charles Willie and his wife, Mary Sue Willie, with Rosalynn Carter, Washington, D.C., ca. 1978

Tape: 5 Story: 14 - Photo - Charles Willie, Cambridge, Massachusetts, ca. 1993

Tape: 5 Story: 15 - Photo - Charles Willie's mother, Carrie Sykes Willie, and father, Louis James Willie, Dallas, Texas, 1971

Tape: 5 Story: 16 - Photo - Charles Willie, Syracuse, New York, 1956

Tape: 5 Story: 17 - Photo - Charles Willie with Samuel DuBois Cook, Atlanta, Georgia, 1998

Tape: 5 Story: 18 - Photo - Charles Willie with Kenneth Shaw, Syracuse, New York, June 2000

Tape: 5 Story: 19 - Photo - Charles Willie with Kenneth Shaw and others, Syracuse, New York, 1992

Tape: 5 Story: 20 - Photo - Charles Willie with Robert Johnson and others, Syracuse, New York, 1992

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Photo - Charles Willie with his family and Robert Johnson, Syracuse, New York, 1992

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Photo - Charles Willie's grandfather, Louis Willie

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Photo - Charles Willie's grandmother, Henrietta Sykes

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Photo - Charles Willie, Dallas, Texas, ca. 1933

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Photo - Charles Willie, New York, New York, ca. 1960s

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Photo - Charles Willie with the Morehouse College Marching Band, Atlanta, Georgia, ca. 1944

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Photo - Charles Willie with his wife, friends, and children, Cooperstown, New York, ca. 1960s

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Photo - Charles Willie with his neighbors, Dallas, Texas, ca. 1933

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Photo - Charles Willie with Cornel West, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1999

Tape: 6 Story: 10 - Photo - Charles Willie with his family

Tape: 6 Story: 11 - Photo - Charles Willie and colleagues, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1997

Tape: 6 Story: 12 - Photo - Charles Willie, Cambridge, Massachusetts, ca. 1976

Tape: 6 Story: 13 - Photo - Charles Willie, ca. 1987

Tape: 6 Story: 14 - Photo - Benjamin Elijah Mays with Charles Willie's children, Syracuse, New York, ca. 1970

Tape: 6 Story: 15 - Photo - Charles Willie, Concord, Massachusetts, 1995

Tape: 6 Story: 16 - Photo - Charles Willie with William Mangin, Syracuse, New York

Tape: 6 Story: 17 - Photo - Charles Willie with Melvin Eggers and John Palmer, Syracuse, New York, 1992

Tape: 6 Story: 18 - Photo - Charles Willie, Newfound Lake, New Hampshire, 1967

Tape: 6 Story: 19 - Photo - Charles Willie with Frederick Humphries and others, Boston, Massachusetts







Charles Willie recalls his father's work as a Pullman Porter
Charles Willie discusses the sociological need for diversity
Now, with your father [Louis J. Willie Sr.], did you have--how long, as a Pullman Porter, how long would he be away from home?$$Oh, for long periods of time. Sometimes--that's where my mother [Carrie Sykes Willie] was such a very important person. He did have regular runs like from Dallas [Texas] to--at one time to Minnesota. That's a long ways. He did have other runs like from Dallas to Amarillo, Texas and back to Dallas or from Dallas to New Orleans [Louisiana] and back. But certainly when the wartime, when the war [World War II] came around, he would go away and sometimes not get back for three weeks. So that was a very difficult time with only one parent in the family. But I think the railroad did something else for my father though. Remember he had only an eighth grade education, but the railroad enabled him to really see and know things. And, of course, he would pick up papers in different regions of the country. And I think his work as Pullman Porter enabled him to be what I would call a cosmopolitan person. And, of course, that rubbed off in the family too. So there was nothing parochial about our family, even though we lived in what I would call a black ghetto and did not have access to the full range of opportunities in Dallas [Texas]. But the fact that my father was able to see a lot of what goes on in the world outside of that neighborhood where we lived, I think it was a very important factor in, in our lives and in our growth and in our ability to reach out to distant regions when we finished school and continued in graduate school.$$Now, did he ever tell you any stories about, you know, did he ever bring stories back from the road or do you think those were just shared between he and your mother? Did he ever--$$No, he never did for a specific reason. My older brother asked my father, after he had graduated from high school, would he intercede and see if he could get him a job with the Pullman Company. And that was the worst thing my brother could ever ask my father to do. He was, went into a rage. "Nope, none of my youngsters are ever gonna work for the railroad." He did not feel that this was a demeaning job. But he did not feel it was the appropriate job that one should aspire for. So he never really brought us stories from the railroad because he never wanted us to feel enamored by it. That was deliberate. So, and, of course, now, after that encounter with my older brother, none of the rest of us ever thought that we would go on the road. He saw his work as a Pullman Porter as a means to an end. And the end, of course, was to educate his family, and to maintain, you know, a strong home.$I found, I've proven this from my own studies. I have found out that poor blacks and poor whites, even though they may be poor, do not believe in the same things. Poor whites have great belief in faith and the past. They want their youngsters to do better, but they don't want them to forget their origins. Poor blacks believe in the future. They want their youngsters to be better, and they don't want them to remember the past. Now, faith and hope both are necessary. So you need the poor blacks and you need the poor whites. I have found that poor whites know a great deal about contributive justice, the responsibility of the individuals to the group. This is what [President John F.] Kennedy was saying in his inaugural address. "And so my fellow Americans, ask not what, you know, America can do for you, but what you can do for America". That's the wisdom of poor whites. I have a case study where a youngster went to jail, professing to do a crime that he didn't because his brother, who committed the crime had just gotten married and had a little baby. And he thought that was no place for a father to be. Now, that's contributive justice, an individual trying to do something for his family group and making a real big sacrifice. Poor blacks are the opposite. The group will make a sacrifice to rescue one individual who's floundering, even if it pulls the rest out of the boat (laughs). They'll throw out the life line. Now, contributive and distributive justice are both important in social relations. So you need to have both of these. This is why I believe in diversity. My diversity is not the beauty of the rainbow. My diversity is that you need to have people who have developed different intelligences because of their life experiences. And therefore, they are able to supplement those for the other people. So when I talk about this, I don't talk about the advanced classes being great without having slow learners in them because I know that people in advanced classes need to learn the patience of dealing with slow learners because slow learners have something to teach the others. So I'm a great believer in diversity. My students always send me cards about Noah and his Ark. I, I used to lecture about that all of the time. Noah was really a new creation story. The only people who populated things were the people on Noah's Ark. But I also deal with Noah bringing big animals and little animals and bringing two of each. I said, I don't know why. And I'm not going to the barnyard to try to explain why. But Noah, I think, understood that diversity is needed. And that, and I take that image and move it on to all kinds of places. So I believe in, I'm a great believer in diversity because I know no one has knowledge that's sufficient unto one's self and one needs to call upon others.