Bureaucracy: Negro Year Book: An Annual Encyclopedia of the Negro

Monroe N. Work, ed. Negro Year Book: An Annual Encyclopedia of the Negro 1918-1919. Tuskegee Institute, Alabama: The Negro Year Book Publishing Company, 1919.


The first edition of the Negro Year Book appeared in 1912. It was published by Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University) and funded by Booker T. Washington, the first principal of Tuskegee. The Year Book was part of a larger project dedicated to “collecting and circulating information favorable to the Negro” (Guzman). For example, editor Monroe N. Work (1866-1945) also compiled a “Bibliography of the Negro in Africa and in America” and began to collect data about lynchings while working at Tuskegee.  When it met with an initially favorable reception, the Negro Year Book, while originally intended as a one-time publication, saw numerous sequels due to “a wide and continued demand” (Guzman).

The 1919 volume not only enlarges and improves in the preceding editions but also includes important events for the years 1917 and 1918.  The book can be divided into three main sections. The first 138 pages are textual accounts of important events that transpired in the year prior to the book’s publication, with related events grouped under several categories, such as “Economic,” “Racial Cooperation,” “Religious,” “Education,” “The War,” etc. (Work iv).  The following fifty or so pages chronicle historical events crucial to African Americans, such as the slave trade in Africa, American slavery, slave insurrections, and the abolitionist movement in the United States. The final portion of the book, spanning more than two hundred pages, charts the achievements African Americans made in various areas from the adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment from 1866 to the year of the book’s publication. Supported with statistical data, this section discusses population growth, literacy rates, household incomes, and acreages owned by African Americans. The section also lists contemporary notable African Americans who excelled in areas of politics, religion, art, and business. Overall, with regard to its comprehensive inclusion of historical facts and statistical data, the Negro Year Book can be seen as one of the earliest scholarly endeavors by and for African Americans to systematically collect, compile and distribute information.

The mastermind behind the Negro Year Book, Monroe N. Work, served as its editor until his retirement. Work was a sociologist and the founder of the Department of Records and Research at the Tuskegee Institute, and he played a decisive role in the compilation, organization and presentation of information in the Year Book. The personal ties Monroe maintained throughout his career with figures like W. E. B. Du Bois, Booker T. Washington, and Richard Wright suggest that Work can be seen as belonging to the group of intellectuals who were often identified with the so-called racial uplift ideology; the Negro Year Book can be seen as a product reflecting that same ideology. According to racial uplift, racial redemption is achieved through socio-economic upward mobility. As Kevin Gaines points out, “Racial uplift ideals were offered as a form of cultural politics, in the hope that unsympathetic whites would relent and recognize the humanity of middleclass African Americans, and their potential for the citizenship rights black men had possessed during Reconstruction” (3).

Concerned with the widespread predicament of African Americans of his time, a time generally called “the nadir of black existence in the United States” (McMurry 333), Work launched a massive endeavor to gather information pertaining to African Americans “from more than 130 newspapers and periodicals, as well as books, governmental reports, reports of special boards and commissions, questionnaires and correspondence […] classified and filed by subjects” (339).  Work was convinced that only historical and statistical facts could counter the racial myths detrimental to the well being of his people. As he himself once said, “You can’t argue with the facts” (qtd. in McMurry 334). More recently, sociologists have drawn on Work’s statistics about lynching to compile a database that would contain all known information about lynchings (Cook). Thus, the facts Work compiled to ensure that African American achievements and challenges would be remembered and recognized still facilitate projects of recollection.

The Negro Year Book, with its insistence on illustrating the progress African Americans made in areas especially valued by bourgeois society (education, wealth, entrepreneurship), can be seen as an attempt to gain the white majority’s recognition that African Americans are no less than whites capable of succeeding in a white-dominated, bourgeois society. Yet because African Americans’ own gathering and organizing of data about themselves created the Year Book, the book also demonstrates a desire and capacity for self-governance. It suggests that African Americans are able and willing to compile information by and for themselves in a way that is as systematic as compilations made by the white-dominated bureaucracy. Even as it makes possible the remembering of African American achievements, the acts of compiling, organizing, and displaying data in the Negro Year Book are gestures that assume a quasi-authoritative power, but one that remains outside—and in some ways resists—the authority of the state.

Find Negro Year Book in the UNT Libraries Catalog.