Gordon Daniel Morgan (1931–2019)

Gordon Morgan was an activist, educator, author, and prominent sociologist during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. In 1969, he became the first African American faculty member of the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County).

Gordon Daniel Morgan was born in Mayflower (Faulkner County) on October 31, 1931, to the farming family of Roosevelt Morgan and Georgia Madlock Morgan. He had one brother and two sisters. He moved to Conway (Faulkner County) at an early age and graduated in 1949 from Pine Street School, a respected African American educational institution in Conway during segregation. Four years later, he graduated from Arkansas AM&N (now the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff) with a BA in sociology. His education was interrupted when he enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1953, and for the next fourteen months he served in the artillery in Korea, just after hostilities had ceased there. He remained in the reserves until 1968, rising to the rank of first lieutenant.

Following his military service in Korea, he returned to Arkansas and enrolled at UA, where he was awarded an MA in sociology in 1956. In a 1956 report, Gordon exposed the horrible conditions at the Negro Boys Industrial School in Wrightsville (Pulaski County). He discovered that the boys and young men housed there were living in squalor and many times clothed in rags, going weeks without bathing. His report had minimal effect, and just three years after his exposé, twenty-one of the inmates were burned to death in a dormitory fire.

After graduation, he returned to Conway to accept a teaching job at his former school, Pine Street School.

Morgan married Izola Preston on June 15, 1957. The couple raised two sons and two daughters.

After teaching at Pine Street School for a couple of years, he accepted a position of instructor of sociology at what is now UAPB. The next year, he accepted a position of research and teaching assistant at Washington State University, remaining there until 1963.

In 1963, Morgan traveled to Africa, where he conducted field research and taught in Uganda for the next two years as an associate professor of sociology at Lincoln University, a historically Black college in Jefferson City, Missouri. He remained at Lincoln until offered a position of associate professor at UA in 1969. With acceptance of the position, he became the first Black faculty member at the university. He was promoted to full professor in 1973 and university professor in 2004. In 1991, he was the Distinguished Visiting Professor at Washington State University.

During his career, Morgan published more than a dozen books and numerous scholarly journal articles and newspaper articles, as well as ten plays. His best-known books were America without Ethnicity and The Edge of Campus: A Journal of the Black Experience at the University of Arkansas. The latter, co-authored with his wife, documented campus life after the desegregation of the university in 1948, while the former, in which Gordon promoted the “de-ethnicizing of America,” was somewhat controversial in the Black community. Many opposed his support of the historic American melting pot theory wherein ethnic communities, including African Americans, would advance further when blended into an “American” mainstream. During his tenure, he assisted in organizing governing bodies for Black students at the university and in the integration of campus student residence halls. In 2019, one such building was named Gordon Morgan Hall.

During his more than forty years at UA, he received a number of honors, including the W. E. B. DuBois Award, Ford Foundation Fellowship, Silas Hunt Legacy Award, and J. William Fulbright Distinguished Alumni Award. He retired in 2012, becoming emeritus professor, and continued to teach and write.

He died on December 17, 2019, and is buried in the Fayetteville National Cemetery. Morgan’s papers are housed in the UA Special Collections.

For additional information:
Adame, Jaime. “First Black Professor Hired by UA Dies at 88.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, December 19, 2019, pp. 1B, 3B.

Gordon Morgan Papers. Special Collections. University of Arkansas Libraries, Fayetteville, Arkansas. Finding aid online at https://uark.as.atlas-sys.com/repositories/2/resources/1571 (accessed May 10, 2022).

Lunsford, Scott. “George Morgan Interview.” David and Barbara Pryor Center for Oral and Visual History: Memories Project, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. Online at https://pryorcenter.uark.edu/project.php?thisProject=4 (accessed May 10, 2022).

“Negro to Join U of A Faculty.” Arkansas Gazette, March 14, 1969, p. 17A.

Mike Polston
CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas

Last Updated: 05/10/2022

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