It is always sad to bid farewell to great humanitarians who end their Earthly journey. It is also a time to celebrate the life and legacy of Douglas Graham Glasgow, a kind, gentle, and wise human being who devoted his life to improving the condition of black Americans. Dr. Glasgow, born in New York City on January 19, 1929, to Matthew and Angelin Glasgow of the British West Indies and Jamaica, four days after the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., passed away on August 9 at the age of 94. He was married to Frieda Flax, and they had two children.
I met Dr. Glasgow when I accepted an appointment at Howard University School of Social Work in 2002. He showed a genuine interest in me as a newly minted Ph.D. entering the world of academia. He had plenty of wisdom and wonderful stories that helped me find my footing in my early days at the school. Below is a brief summary of his many contributions to society.
The nation was experiencing a period of prosperity at the time of his birth that would soon turn into despair when Wall Street crashed in October and ushered in the Great Depression. Black Americans suffered severely during the Depression, with 25 percent unemployment compared to 15 percent for white Americans. They were denied jobs and forced to live in segregated and substandard living conditions. Seventy percent of black Americans would lose their homes to foreclosure compared to 30 percent of White households.
These conditions helped shape the life’s work of Dr. Glasgow, who graduated from Boys High School in Brooklyn, a place I knew very well because many of my friends attended the school with a fine reputation for having excellent teachers and a rigorous curriculum. He earned his B.A. in sociology at Brooklyn College, his master’s degree in social work from Columbia University, and his doctorate from the University of Southern California.
At 16, he became involved in the worldwide peace movement, the American Peace Crusade, which put him in contact with notables W.E.B. DuBois, atomic scientist Phil Morrison, activist and entertainer Paul Robeson, and noted sociologist Cyril deGrasse Tyson, who served as the New York City Human Resources Commissioner for Mayor John Lindsey. Glasgow’s work with the World Fellowship of Faiths included traveling nationwide and attending a world conference in Denmark as a youth representative.
Dr. Glasgow’s experience as an activist led to friendships with Harry Belafonte, Sidney Poitier, Jesse Jackson, John Lewis, Andrew Young, Ron Brown, Whitey M. Young, Jr., and many others. He worked closely with Angela Davis and Mary Jane Hewitt while on the faculty at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), building support for the small number of black faculty at the university. He also taught at Norfolk State University and Howard University School of Social Work, where he also served as dean. He was also a visiting professor at the University of Ghana and Makerere University in Uganda.
Recognized widely as an expert on welfare and underclass formation in urban areas, he gained notoriety by publishing his pivotal 1981 book, The Black Underclass: Poverty, Unemployment, and Entrapment of Ghetto Youth, based on extensive research he conducted in Watts between 1965 and 1968 with a follow-up in 1975. He described a segment of the population that neither anti-poverty nor Head Start programs had been able to touch. Focusing on a cohort of youth between 18 and 34, he documented their lives, experiences, and why a black underclass existed in the country. He provided a new understanding of the aspirations and motivations of these young people and contributed to the national debate about race and class.
Dr. Glasgow was a founding member of the National Association of Black Social Workers (NABSW) and was vice president of the Washington, DC operations of the National Urban League, working closely with John Mack and Vernon Jordan. He helped to found and worked with numerous community groups and organizations, including the Black Men’s Development Center, the DC Mental Health Reorganization Commission, and the Teen Pregnancy Commission. He was a regular guest at the White House from Presidents Jimmy Carter to George W. Bush, consulting on public policy impacting Black America.
Family members describe him as a “gifted lobbyist, orator, writer, cook, singer, storyteller, visionary, father, partner, friend, bridge builder, and a very humble man.” He was a mentor, friend, and someone I was proud to know. Dr. Glasgow was working on another book at the time of his passing.