Cox was born in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago emigrated to the United States and earned a bachelor of science degree from Northwestern University in 1928. He soon developed Poliomyelitis (Polio), causing both his legs to be permanently crippled. He then attended the University of Chicago Economics department and graduated with a Master's degree in 1932. From there, he continued at Chicago in the Sociology department where he graduated from with a Ph.D in 1938.
Cox was a Marxist who criticized capitalism and race in Foundations of Capitalism (1959), Capitalism and American Leadership (1962), Capitalism as a System (1964) and his last, Jewish Self-Interest and Black Pluralism (1974). Perhaps Cox's most profound and influential if also "understudied" book was his first, Caste, Class and Race, published in the same year E. Franklin Frazier became the first black president of the American Sociological Association, 1948. In a scathing "Introduction" to The Black Anglo Saxons by Nathan Hare, Cox ridiculed what he regarded as a misguided approach to the study of race relations he called "The Black Bourgeoisie School" headed by E. Franklin Frazier.
- "It is remarkable that some of the most precious rights of human welfare are attributed to the advocacy and practice of communists; and yet, in the same breath, we are asked to hate communists." Caste, Class and Race: A Study in Social Dynamics, Monthly Review Press, New York, (1959) pg. xxxiii
- "it should not be forgotten that, above all else, the slave was a worker whose labor was exploited in production for profit in a capitalist market. It is this fundamental fact which identifies the Negro problem in the United States with the problem of all workers regardless of color." ibid. pg. xxxii
- "Racial antagonism is part and parcel of this class struggle, because it developed within the capitalist system as one of its fundamental traits. It may be demonstrated that racial antagonism, as we know it today, never existed in the world before about 1492; moreover, racial feeling developed concomitantly with the development of our modern social system." ibid. pg. xxx
- "“The capitalist State is not a spiritual product; its function, from its inception in the medieval town, has always been primarily to secure the interest of a certain class.” "ibid".
- Oliver Cox, Race, Caste and Class, New York: Monthly Review Press, 1948. 
- Oliver Cox, "Introduction," The Black Anglo Saxons (by Nathan Hare), New York: Marzani and Munsell, 1965.
- The Sociology of Oliver C. Cox: New Perspectives (Research in Race and Ethnic Relations), H.M. Hunter (Editor),JAI Press,2000.
- The Mind of Oliver C. Cox, Christopher A. McAuley,University of Notre Dame Press, 2004.