Robert E. Park

Robert E. Park Biography

Journalist, Educator, Sociologist, Civil Rights Activist (1864–1944)
Robert E. Park was a pioneering scholar known for his work with Booker T. Washington and developing the nascent field of sociology.


Robert E. Park, born in Harveyville, Pennsylvania, on February 14, 1864, studied at a number of universities both in the U.S. and overseas before coming to work closely with Tuskegee Institute founder Booker T. Washington. Park later joined the University of Chicago faculty and helped immensely in the development of the field of sociology. He died on February 7, 1944, in Nashville, Tennessee.

Background and Education

Robert Ezra Park was born in Harveyville, Pennsylvania, on February 14, 1864, moving to Red Wing, Minnesota during his childhood. Though his father initially wasn't behind the idea of his son going to college, Park eventually attended the University of Michigan, studying philosophy under John Dewey and graduating in 1887 Phi Beta Kappa. He did postgraduate work at a number of institutions both domestically and overseas, earning his doctorate in philosophy from the University of Heidelberg in 1899.

Park had also worked as a reform-minded newspaper journalist from 1887 until the late 1890s in Denver, New York and various parts of the Midwest, with his experience helping to shape his insight into community dynamics. By the early 20th century, he'd taken on the position of secretary of the Congo Reform Association, which detailed abuses suffered by African communities.

Works With Booker T. Washington

Subsequently, upon meeting Tuskegee Institute founder Booker T. Washington, Robert E. Park started work as his secretary in 1905, handling writing duties and becoming head of publicity for the school. Park also helped to establish the National Urban League and traveled through Europe with Washington in 1910, looking at the plight of the European working/farming class while also keeping in mind the racial dynamics of the American South. (These ideas would be presented in the 1912 book The Man Farthest Down - A Record of Observation and Study in Europe, with Park receiving writing credit for the work, as well.)

Develops Field of Sociology

Leaving Tuskegee in 1914, Park joined the sociology faculty of the University of Chicago, remaining there for around two decades and then teaching at Fisk. He made a number of groundbreaking contributions to the developing field, including coming up with the term "human ecology," delineating systemic social behaviors and dynamics, and helping to establish some of the parameters that would become cornerstones of sociological disciplines. Park had a continued interest in race, newspaper and urban analysis and was a mentor to an array of influential future sociologists, including Leonard Cottrell and E. Franklin Frazier.

Park co-authored with E.W. Burgess the book Introduction to the Science of Sociology (1921) and penned other works, including The Immigrant Press and Its Control (1922) and various articles. In 1925, he became the 15th president of what is now known as the American Sociological Association.

Park died on February 7, 1944, in Nashville, Tennessee.

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