Book Launch Restores Sadie TM Alexander’s Economic Legacy

At a virtual gathering on June 15, academics, economists and family members of Sadie TM Alexander celebrated the launch of a new book by economist and Bucknell University associate professor Nina Banks, “Democracy, race and justice.” The book, published by Yale University Press, is a collection of speeches and writings composed by Alexander, who was the first African American at Penn, and in the United States, to receive his doctorate. in economy. This year marks the 100th anniversary since his graduation.

The event was organized by Bucknell University in partnership with the University of Penn Archives and Records Center, among others. The University of Penn Archives houses the Alexander family collection, including records of Sadie Alexander, as well as her husband Raymond Pace Alexander, the first African-American graduate of the Wharton School.

The book launch began with a short documentary video narrated by Nicole Lewis, Sadie Alexander’s great-granddaughter. The short film explored her family history, legal career, activist work, and provided context for the times of racial and gender discrimination in which she lived. Wilene Johnson, economist and former president of the National Economics Association, opened the webinar by introducing Radhika Balakrishnan, president of the International Association for Feminist Economics. Balakrishnan stressed the importance of a project that not only highlights Alexander’s economic research, but “a project where feminist economics is writing feminist economic history,” she said.

“Because a lot of our history is written by those who are not in our field,” she added.

Sadie TM Alexander (1898-1989), BS 1918, AM 1919, Ph.D. 1921, LL.B. 1927, in pearls and white graduation gown, portrait photograph. (Picture: Penn Archives)

Her remarks were followed by comments from Julianne Malveaux, who has previously written of Alexander as a “missed opportunity” for the world, due to the headwinds she faced as a black woman on the pitch and “deliberate avoidance”. .

“She still did a lot, a lot,” Malveaux said, noting her work as a civic leader, National Urban League board member, and more. “But I often think of his frustration. Imagine an airline pilot being told the best he could do was get groceries from a store,” she added, mentioning Alexander’s challenge to find a position in his field. as a black woman and to become an actuary at some point.

Author Nina Banks then discussed what inspired her to expand on Malveaux’s research and shed light on Alexander’s economic intellectual contributions.

“At first I set out to restore Sadie Alexander’s economic thought to the discipline of economics, but as I continued to sift through this massive archive folder of over 81 boxes of files and documents, what I realized was that Sadie Alexander was important not only to the economics profession, but also to African-American history and therefore to our nation’s history in general,” Banks explained.

The Alexander family was then introduced by Rhona Sharpe of the Women’s Institute for Science, Equity and Race. Family members, which included Alexander’s two daughters, two grandchildren and a great-granddaughter, shared stories about their mother and expressed their gratitude for Banks’ efforts.

“I went through some of my parents’ albums, and for me it was very overwhelming, it really was,” said her daughter Mary Cannaday, recalling going through the archive collection. from Penn University. “My mother would be very proud of your diligence.”

Acting University Archivist Jim Duffin spoke about the popularity of Alexander family documents in the archives and also described recent efforts to digitize documents and make audio recordings accessible.

“The gift of [the Alexander] The family papers at the University of Penn Archives are, dare I say, one of the most important gifts of personal papers to our archives,” Duffin said. “One of the key roles of archives in our society is the preservation of memory… [but] the challenge that many archives have had to face in recent years is: “Whose memory is kept? Often, archives are a mirror of the dominant culture and its definitions of memory, which have frequently left out marginalized groups.

“Fortunately,” he said, “thanks to Sadie Alexander’s family and the work of Dr. Banks, we are able to expand our public memory.”

Following remarks by David Card, president of the Economics Association, and Lily Shorney, who assisted Banks in the archival research, Bernard Anderson, Whitney Young, Jr. Professor Emeritus at Wharton and the seventh African-American to obtain a doctorate. in Economics from Penn in 1969.

Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander

Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander outside Houston Hall.

Anderson explained how he knew Alexander as a well-respected lawyer and only later learned that she had earned a doctorate. in Economics from Penn.
“Sadie Alexander’s writings, to a large extent, set the foundation for the challenges that need to be overcome,” he said, describing the new book as one that should be “required reading” for college students. economy, and which “perhaps this will accelerate the day when the exercise of the profession of economist will live up to the promise of the profession of economist.

The event ended with Johnson describing a level of Alexander’s detailed analysis of labor markets during her period that she had “never seen before”, particularly in descriptions of the severe limitations facing black women faced in the job market. Banks followed by acknowledging that Alexander was as focused on African American men as it was women, and closed by reading three speeches from Alexander, covering topics such as the overwhelming contributions of black people to the stable of supply in American life compared to the relatively small size of the population. , and the mass arrests of blacks in 1942 without probable cause.

“Sadie Alexander was making the same point about the police, and that the police took on the role of harassing and arresting African Americans as a form of political repression,” Banks explained. “And I think we can also think of that in recent political contexts, such as broken windows and stop and frisks, not only as policies that criminalize African Americans, but we can think of it in ongoing attempts to quell attempts by African Americans. political agency.

The full event is available for viewing on the Bucknell University website. Banks will then work on a biography of Sadie Alexander, with a release date to be determined.

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