Lewis Wade Jones

Photographer unknown. Circa 1960. Photo from Tuskegee University Archives.

African American, Ethnography, Sociology

Lewis Wade Jones


Dr. Lewis Wade Jones was one of the major ethnographers of Southern rural Black life in the 20th century, at a time when formerly enslaved Blacks transitioned from sharecropping to more mechanized ways of living and work.

Lewis Wade Jones was born in Cuero, Texas, in 1910, to Wade E. and Lucynthia McDade Jones. After growing up in Navasota, Texas, where his parents taught school, he earned his AB from Fisk University (1931) and conducted post-graduate studies in sociology at the University of Chicago in 1931-1932 as a Social Science Research Fellow. 

In 1931, he also conducted ethnographic fieldwork in Macon County, Alabama, at Tuskegee with Charles Johnson’s Fisk research team. From 1932 to 1942, Jones was employed as an instructor, supervisor of field studies, and research assistant in the Department of Social Sciences at Fisk University. While working at Fisk, Jones earned an MA in Sociology (1939) from Columbia University with a Julius Rosenwald Foundation Fund Fellowship. Jones collaborated with Johnson on several research projects, including a study of the founding and settlement of newly emancipated Black migrants to the all-Black town of Menifee, Arkansas and their transition to freedom after the Civil War (1934). He was a lead ethnographer in the Coahoma County folklore study (1941-1942) with Johnson, John Work III, Samuel Adams, and Ulysses Young. As part of the summer faculty, Jones worked with Willis Laurence James to expand the documentation and recordings of the Fort Valley State College Folk Festival (1941-1943) begun by James and Work III, which included fieldwork on African American music, songs, and interviews of reactions to the US entrance in World War II. Jones and Johnson also co-authored A Statistical Analysis of Southern Counties: Shifts in the Negro Population of Alabama (1949).  

After serving in the US Army during World War II, Jones worked as an associate editor of the Negro Yearbook (1952), earned his PhD in Sociology at Columbia (1955), and a teacher for the Delegacy of Extramural Studies at Oxford University. From 1966, he became the director of the Tuskegee Institute Rural Development Center and remained at Tuskegee Institute until his death in 1979.

In 1971, Jones was the recipient of the second W.E.B. DuBois Award from the Association of Social and Behavioral Scientists in recognition of his development of theory and research in race relations and rural sociology. Dr. Lewis Wade Jones published more than fifty articles and a book. 

Among his publications of interest for folklorists:

With John Work III, Samuel Adams, Jr. Lost Delta Found: Rediscovering the Fisk University-Library of Congress Coahoma County Study, 1941-1942. Edited by Robert Gordon and Bruce Nemerov (2005)

Medical Care Practices in Four Rural Neighborhoods: A Study of the Choice of Alternatives (1955)

Phyllis M. May-Machunda

(coming soon)