Arthur Fauset

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Arthur Huff Fauset (January 20, 1899 – September 2, 1983)[1] was an American civil rights activist, anthropologist, folklorist, and educator. Born in Flemington, New Jersey, he grew up in Philadelphia, where he attended Central High School.

Image courtesy of the Special Collections Research Center. Temple University Libraries. Philadelphia, PA

Family background[edit]

Fauset was born on the 20th of January in 1899 and was the middle child of three children in an interracial family in Flemington, New Jersey.[2] His father Redmon Fauset was African American and likely of mixed race. He was a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and his white wife Bella was born into a Jewish family. Bringing three children from her first marriage, she had converted to Christianity to marry Fauset.[3] Redmon Fauset had seven children from his first marriage, born before his wife Annie (née Seamon) died.

As a person of known mixed race, Arthur Fauset never identified fully with either of his parents' ethnic groups as a child or adult. According to the hypodescent practices of US society, he and his siblings were considered Negro (or Black). They were people of color. Judging by photographs of his half-sister Jessie Redmon Faust, from his father's first family, both Redmon and his first wife Annie were also mixed race. Jessie was light-skinned, with features showing some European ancestry. She wrote novels that dealt with issues of color in the black community.

Both Redmon and Bella Fauset were dedicated to the importance of education. Redmon believed that writing was an essential discipline while Bella was a devout integrationist, believing firmly in social integration. She encouraged the children in their schooling after Redmon died when Arthur was four years old. In his adult life, in contrast to his father, Fauset broke away from religion and identified as a "free thinker."


Fauset attended Central High School, a top academic high school for boys in Philadelphia. He studied further at the Philadelphia School of Pedagogy for Men, where he received his teaching credentials, and started his first teaching position in 1918.[4] In the mid-1920s, he took the principal's merit exams, scoring so highly that he qualified for promotion.[4]

He was selected as head of the John Singerly School, serving for 20 years until 1946.[4] During this period Fauset also began studying and practicing anthropology. He was mentored by writer Alain Locke, who also became a friend and emphasized an academic approach to guide his activism. Fauset earned a B.A. in 1921, and an M.A. in 1924 from the University of Pennsylvania. After teaching for years and pursuing advanced studies, he earned a Ph.D. in 1942, also from Penn.[4]

Fauset pursued education in order to feed and develop his intellect. He was discouraged because of his race from ambitions to teach at the university level. People of color had fewer opportunities in academia, but some men were completing advanced degrees and obtaining some college positions. Fauset taught and was principal at Joseph Singerly Public School,[5] an elementary school in North Philadelphia, for 20 years.[2]


Arthur Huff Fauset was very interested in folklore and conducted fieldwork in the South, the Caribbean, and Nova Scotia to learn these tales. During the time of the Harlem Renaissance, he also made large contributions in bringing awareness to African American folklore that seemed to have been undermined and forgotten.[6] While he did not make many contributions to folklore in theater, he did spread light on them through tales, songs, conundrums, and jokes. However, he was known for letting African American voices speak for themselves and tell their own stories. He did not alter or try to input his own theories in them, but rather just told them the way that they were told to him.[7] This approach caused many people to read and appreciate his writing and he first piece appeared in The Crisis while he was a college student at the University of Pennsylvania with his short story "The Tale Of The North Carolina Woods" in January 1922.[8] He aimed to cultivate and revive African American culture through these tales and reestablish a sense of pride that had long been abandoned.

The only time when Fauset did input his own theories and ideas in these stories was in his first book Folklore from Nova Scotia which he published in 1931. Through this book, he portrayed how his understanding of folklore revolved around the diffusion model which looks at how information spreads throughout a population. He spoke about how African American folklore had changed overtime in that it now integrated in it folklore from other cultures such as Irish or French. Fauset believed that this was not because Negroes had assimilated to the dominant culture of their province but because they had been contributing part of their culture to the dominant culture and through that process also integrated aspects of the dominant culture into their own.[7] During his time in Nova Scotia in the summer of 1923, Fauset found that hardly any of the traditional stories told by Negroes in the United States were told in Nova Scotia and the ones told there were unheard of to those in the United States.[6] It was as though each group only had small pieces of a larger puzzle and needed help in organizing and bringing all of their stories together to get a better sense of their whole culture. This is where Fauset helped in tying together and spreading these stories to better educate all Negroes of their heritage. However, this was not the only role he played but also used these stories to debunk stereotypes of African Americans which had been assigned as truths. For example, he pointed out that while talking to Negroes in Nova Scotia, many of them said that they would go down to visit the states if the weather there wasn't as hot there. This debunked the stereotype that all Negroes enjoyed and were drawn to warmer climates and gave them a more authentic identity at a time when they were being portrayed as minstrels in the United States.[7]

Published works[edit]

  • For Freedom. Franklin Pub. and Supply Co., 1927.
  • Folklore from Nova Scotia, Memoirs of the American Folklore Society, Vol. 24, 1931. Reprint: Corinthian Press, 1988.
  • Black Gods of the Metropolis; Negro Religious Cults of the Urban North. University of Pennsylvania Press, 1944. Reprint 1971. Reprinted 2001 (with an introduction by John Szwed and a foreword by Barbara Dianne Savage).
  • Sojourner Truth; God's Faithful Pilgrim. Russell & Russell, 1971.
  • with Nellie Rathbone Bright: America: Red, White, Black, Yellow. Franklin Pub. and supply Co., 1969.


Fauset was an active figure in the Harlem Renaissance. His older half-sister, Jessie Redmon Fauset (1882–1961), was better known, having been Literary Editor of The Crisis, and a poet, essayist and published novelist in the 1920s and 1930s.[9]

In 1926, Fauset's essay "Symphonesque" won first prize in a contest run by Opportunity: A Journal of Negro Life. He also published it in the magazine Fire!, and in 1926 it won an O. Henry Memorial Award.[10]

In the 1920s Fauset was part of a Philadelphia literary group called the Black Opals, typical of African-American groups springing up in several major East Coast cities, and inspired by activities in Harlem. In 1927 they founded a literary magazine called Black Opals,[11] which he co-edited with Nellie Rathbone Bright.[12] She also published poetry in the magazine, as did Mae V. Cowdery; both their pieces were praised by Countee Cullen, the new literary editor of Opportunity.[13] Bright was a teacher in the Philadelphia schools.[12] Another member of the intellectual group and artistic director of the magazine was Allan Randall Freelon, a painter.[14] They published the magazine for one year.

Fauset became acquainted with Frank G. Speck, who introduced him to the newly developing academic field of anthropology. Fauset went to Nova Scotia in the summer of 1923 to collect folklore. He continued to study and work in the field. In 1925 he interviewed Cudjo Lewis in Mobile, Alabama, the last survivor of more than 100 African slaves brought illegally in 1860 to the US by the American slave ship Clotilde. They were trafficked 52 years after the US banned the Atlantic trade. Fauset published two of Lewis' traditional stories, as well as his account of hunting in Africa, in a 1927 issue of the Journal of American Folklore. [15] Fauset concentrated on his work in anthropology, belonging to the Philadelphia Anthropology Society,[16] the American Anthropological Association, and the American Folklore Society. The latter society published his Nova Scotian findings in their Memoirs in 1931. Elsie Clews Parsons, a wealthy white woman, supported Fauset as a patron throughout his career in anthropology. With her support, he published his Ph.D. dissertation on Negro cults of Philadelphia,[17] New York City and Chicago, as Black Gods of the Metropolis (1944).[18]

In 1932-33 Fauset served as vice-president of the Philadelphia teachers' union and participated in its reorganization. He also joined the National Negro Congress.

External links[edit]


  1. ^ Salzman, Jack; David L. Smith; Cornel West (1996). Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History. Macmillan Library Reference. p. 937. ISBN 978-0-02-897345-6. 
  2. ^ a b Fauset, Arthur Huff (1983). "Arthur Huff Fauset Papers". University of Pennsylvania. Retrieved May 17, 2017. 
  3. ^ "Fauset, Arthur Huff(1899–1983) - Anthropologist, educator, Prepares for Career, Chronology". Net Industries. 
  4. ^ a b c d "Fauset, Arthur Huff(1899–1983) - Anthropologist, educator, Prepares for Career, Chronology".
  5. ^ "Joseph Singerly Combined Grammar, Secondary and Primary School". 
  6. ^ a b Smith, Jessie Carney (2007). Notable Black American Men. Detroit: Thomson Gale. ISBN 0787664936. 
  7. ^ a b c Baker, Lee (1998). From Savage to Negro: Anthropology and the Construction of Race. Berkeley: Berkeley University of California Press. pp. Ch. 7. ISBN 0520211685. 
  8. ^ Fauset, Arthur Huff (1983). "Arthur Huff Fauset Papers". University of Pennsylvania Libraries. 
  9. ^ Wintz, Cary D., and Paul Finkelman, ed. "Arthur Fauset", Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance, Vol. 1, (2004), p. 362.
  10. ^ Sandra L. West Aberjhani , Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance], Infobase Publishing, 2003, p. 263
  11. ^ Harrison, Ira E.; Harrison, Faye V. (1999). "African-American Pioneers in Anthropology". University of Illinois Press. 
  12. ^ a b Elizabeth McHenry, Forgotten Readers: Recovering the Lost History of African American Literary Societies, Duke University Press, 2002, pp. 292-294
  13. ^ Wintz, Cary D., and Paul Finkelman, ed. "Black Opals", Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance, Vol. 1, (2004), p. 133.
  14. ^ Aberjhani (2003), Encyclopedia, p. 119
  15. ^ Fauset, Arthur Huff. Negro Folk Tales from the South. (Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana). pp. 213–303. 
  16. ^ "Welcome to Penn Anthropology | Department of Anthropology". 
  17. ^ McCord, F. (1 October 1944). "Black Gods of the Metropolis. Negro Religious Cults of the Urban North. By Arthur Huff Fauset. Philadelphia: Publications of the Philadelphia Anthropological Society, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1944. 126 pp. $2.00". Social Forces. pp. 115–115. doi:10.2307/2572404. 
  18. ^ Northrup, Herbert R.; Thieblot,, Armand J.; Chernish, William N. (1971). The Negro in the air transport industry. Philadelphia: Industrial Research Unit, Dept. of Industry, Wharton School of Finance and Commerce, University of Pennsylvania; distributed by University of Pennsylvania Press. ISBN 9780812290677.