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Oliver Cox

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Oliver Cox
BornAugust 24, 1901
Port of Spain, Trinidad
DiedSeptember 4, 1974
EducationCentral YMCA High School Chicago

Lewis Institute

Northwestern University Law (1928)

U. Chicago Department of Economics M.A.(1932)

U. Chicago Department of Sociology Ph.D. (1938) [1]
Notable workCaste, Class, and Race: A Study in Social Dynamics, 1948

Foundations of Capitalism, 1959 Capitalism as a System, 1964

Race Relations: Elements and Social Dynamics, 1976

Oliver Cromwell Cox (24 August 1901 – 4 September 1974) was a Trinidadian-American sociologist. Cox was often misconceived as a Marxist due to his focus on class conflict and capitalism, however, Cox fundamentally disagreed with Marx's analysis of Capitalism. While Marx and other classical economists viewed foreign trade as trade in surpluses, Cox felt that foreign trade was the primary driving force in capitalist development. For Cox, capitalist systems were not isolated, but rather there was an interconnected network of global capitalist systems.[2]

Cox was born into a middle-class family in Port of Spain, Trinidad and emigrated to the United States in 1919. Growing up in Port of Spain, Trinidad, Cox was removed from the racial discrimination and hostilities that are present in the United States. Cox grew up as a member of the majority group, in a predominantly black world where white Europeans were considered outsiders.[3] This perspective influenced Cox's research and sociological exploration.

Cox was a founding father of the world-systems perspective, which is a socioeconomic system that encompasses part or all of the world.[4] Additionally, Cox was an important scholar of racism and its relationship to the development and spread of global capitalism, and a member of the Chicago School of Sociology.[5] In 1929 he developed poliomyelitis (polio), causing both his legs to be permanently crippled and that was when he gave up his plans to study law. He was the son of William Raphael Cox and Virginia Blake Cox.


Early Education[edit]

He attended Saint Thomas Boys' School when he was in Trinidad, where he studied Math, English, Language and more.[6] Cox attended YMCA High school and Crane Junior College in Chicago.[7]


In 1928, Cox earned a Law degree from Northwestern University.[3] Cox also attended the University of Chicago Economics Department and graduated with a master's degree in 1932.[3] From there, he continued at the University of Chicago in the Sociology Department, where he received his Ph.D. in 1938, with a dissertation entitled "Factors Affecting the Marital Status of Negroes in the United States" written under the supervision of William Fielding Ogburn.[3]


William Raphael Cox is the father of Cox and worked as a captain of a revenue schooner, and later on as a customs and excise officer.[3] Virginia Blake Cox was the mother of Cox and his seven siblings.[8] Cox's uncle, Reginald Vidale was the Catholic school master at St. Thomas Boys’ School. He was a prominent teacher in the local school system and was highly respected in the community. Reginald transitioned from the position of a teacher to the Inspector of schools in 1943 and later became a city councilman, an alderman, and then mayor of Port Spain.[3] Cox has three nieces Ann V. Awon-Pantin, Esther Awon-Thomasos, and Juliet  Awon-Uibopuu/


Cox first initiated his teaching career at Wiley College in Marshall, Texas. From there, he also lectured at Tuskegee Institute in 1944, where many thought he would "bring them prestige."[9] Later in 1949, he moved to Missouri, where he taught at Lincoln University until March 11, 1970, where he told the president at the college, Walter Daniels, that he was retiring. Cox moved and accepted a position as a Visiting Professor in the sociology department that was encouraged by Alvin W. Rose at Wayne State University of Michigan.[3]


Cox was a Marxist[10] 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 book was Caste, Class and Race, published in 1948. Also in 1948 Cox published Race: A Study in Social Dynamics. 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. The title of Caste, Class and Race referred to the vigorous criticism of W. Lloyd Warner's caste conception of race in the USA.[11]

Caste, Class and Race (1948)[edit]

Cox Published his most profound and influential book, Caste, Class and Race in 1948, just ten years after earning his Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Chicago.[3] Composed of over 600 pages of scholarship, the book remains a landmark of sociological analysis. Caste, Class and Race provided an alternative to the liberal pluralist view of race by attempting to integrate race and class in order to critique capitalism.[12] Cox believed that the racialized system in the US was a result of the intersection of class and democracy.[13] Understanding race, and race relations in the United States requires an understanding of the context and history of capitalism in America.[14]


The Racial and Ethnic Minorities' Oliver Cromwell Cox Article Award (for Anti-Racist Scholarship) is given out annually and also The Section on Racial and Ethnic Minorities' Oliver Cromwell Cox Book Award (for Anti-Racist Scholarship).[15] Cox was the first ever recipient of the DuBois-Johnson-Frazier Award by the American Sociological Association.

Selected works[edit]

  • "Factors Affecting the Marital Status of Negroes in the United States," University of Chicago (PhD, Sociology), 1938
  • Caste, Class, and Race: A Study in Social Dynamics, 1948
  • Foundations of Capitalism, 1959
  • Capitalism as a System, 1964
  • Race Relations: Elements and Social Dynamics, 1976
Book Chapters
  • "Leadership Among Negroes in the United States," in Studies in Leadership, by A. W. Gouldner (ed.), 1950
  • "Introduction," in The Black Anglo Saxons, by Nathan Hare, 1965.
Journal Articles
  • "Marital Status and Employment of Women," Sociology and Social Research, 25, 1940
  • "Employment, Education, and Marriage of Young Negro Adults," Journal of Negro Education, 10, 1941
  • "Lynching and Status Quo," Journal of Negro Education, 14, 1945
  • "Jewish Self-Interest in 'Black Pluralism'", The Sociological Quarterly, 15(2), 1974

Archival Papers[edit]

Cox's manuscript for "Capitalism as a System" is available for research in the Oliver Cromwell Cox Papers at the Walter P. Reuther Library in Detroit. http://reuther.wayne.edu/node/14325


  1. ^ Herbert M. Hunter
  2. ^ Watson, Hilbourne A. (2014). "Oliver Cromwell Cox's understanding of capitalism and the problem of his materialist perspective". Canadian Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Studies / Revue canadienne des études latino-américaines et caraïbes. 39 (3): 382–402. doi:10.1080/08263663.2014.1013287. ISSN 0826-3663. JSTOR 26588039. S2CID 142941993.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Hunter, Herbert M. (1983). "Oliver C. Cox: A Biographical Sketch of His Life and Work". Phylon. 44 (4): 249–261. doi:10.2307/274575. ISSN 0031-8906. JSTOR 274575.
  4. ^ Wallerstein, Immanuel (2000). "Oliver C. Cox As World-Systems Analyst". Research in Race and Ethnic Relations. 11: 173–183.
  5. ^ Cheseboro, Anthony (1998). "Conflict and Continuity: E. Franklin Frazier, Oliver C. Cox and the Chicago School of Sociology". Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society. 92 (2): 150–172.
  6. ^ "Cox, Oliver C. | Encyclopedia.com".
  7. ^ Celarent, Barbara (2010). "Review of Caste, Class, and Race, Oliver Cromwell Cox". American Journal of Sociology. 115 (5): 1664–1669. doi:10.1086/652956. ISSN 0002-9602. JSTOR 10.1086/652956. S2CID 143682597.
  8. ^ Allahar, Anton L. (2016). "Cox, Oliver Cromwell". Oxford African American Studies Center. doi:10.1093/acref/9780195301731.013.73715. ISBN 9780195301731. Retrieved 2021-03-05.
  9. ^ Scott, John. 2007. Fifty Key Sociologists the Formative Theorists. London: Routledge.
  10. ^ Cox describes his relationship to Marxist thought in his 1948 study Caste, Class, and Race: A Study in Social Dynamics:

    At best, Marxian hypotheses are "servants, not masters." Indeed, it has been said that Karl Marx himself was not Marxian because in his studies he strived to understand modern society, while the religious Marxists, in their exegetical discussions, center their attention not upon the ongoing social system but rather upon an explanation and criticism of Marx — a sort of rumination of his conclusions, incidental errors and all. If, therefore, parts of this study seem Marxian, it is not because we have taken the ideas of this justly famous writer as gospel, but because we have not discovered any other that could explain the facts so consistently. (p. xi)

  11. ^ Herbert M. Hunter, Sameer Y. Abraham, "Race, class, and the world system: the sociology of Oliver C. Cox", Monthly Review Press, 1987
  12. ^ Snedeker, George (July 1988). "Capitalism, racism, and the struggle for democracy: The political sociology of Oliver C. Cox". Socialism and Democracy. 4 (2): 75–95. doi:10.1080/08854309008428016. ISSN 0885-4300.
  13. ^ "Caste, Class, and Race". Global Social Theory. 2018-02-18. Retrieved 2023-09-25.
  14. ^ Reed Jr, Adolph (2001-02-01). "Race and Class in the Work of Oliver Cromwell Cox". Monthly Review. Retrieved 2023-09-25.
  15. ^ "Racial and Ethnic Minorities Award Recipient History". American Sociological Association. 2011-03-08. Retrieved 2021-03-05.


  • Biography on the African-American Registry
  • Oliver Cox, Caste, Class, and Race, Monthly Review Press, 1948. [1]
  • Cedric J. Robinson, "Oliver Cromwell Cox and the Historiography of the West," Cultural Critique 17 (Winter 1990/91), 5-20.
  • H.M. Hunter (editor), The Sociology of Oliver C. Cox: New Perspectives (Research in Race and Ethnic Relations), JAI Press, 2000.
  • Christopher A. McAuley, The Mind of Oliver C. Cox, University of Notre Dame Press, 2004.
  • Todd Cronan, "Oliver Cromwell Cox and the Capitalist Sources of Racism," Jacobin (September 5, 2020).

External links[edit]