Otto Klineberg: Anthropology Faculty 1934 – 1943
(Page 2 of 2)
Progressive activism on campus ran counter to the prevailing sentiment among whites that blacks were intellectually and morally inferior. According to the New York Times, in 1931 Klineberg denounced established ideas about racial superiority and interracial marriage as unscientific, and the New York Herald-Tribune responded with an editorial stating that “his assertions ran counter to most ethnologists, ‘any intelligent farmer’s knowledge of barnyard biology,’ and ‘American experience.’”
Klineberg authored numerous books, among them the unprecedented Race Differences and Negro Intelligence and Selective Migration, both published in 1935. In 1951, Klineberg provided key evidence in the Delaware case Belton v. Gebhart, one of several cases consolidated to form the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education, which ended school segregation in 1954. The Delaware case was the only one that was successful at the state level. Klineberg not only conducted the research upon which the integrationists based much of their case, but he testified in court as well. Ultimately, Klineberg’s work played a critical role in American politics, the civil rights movement, and a nationwide shift in consciousness about race.
Otto Klineberg passed away in 1992. In a campus talk titled “Origin of Race Prejudice” he told students, “Race prejudice does not develop from experience or contact with different people, but from situations where one group can gain advantage over another group by belittling them.” Klineberg used his work as a scientist to help turn the tide of popular opinion, speaking out against bigotry in all forms and labeling Hitler’s Aryan race a fiction. He told Campus nearly 70 years ago, “Anthropologists declare that there is no race but the human race.” Nowadays, this statement seems only logical. In large part, we have Otto Klineberg’s work to thank for our perspective.
by Gillian Gilman Culff ’89