Sociologist, activist, teacher, and writer, Katharine Du Pre Lumpkin spent a lifetime studying and combating economic and racial oppression. She is best known for her autobiography, The Making of a Southerner (1947).
Lumpkin was born on December 22, 1897, in Macon to Annette Caroline Morris and William Lumpkin, a veteran of the Civil War (1861-65). As a member of a prominent Georgia family and the daughter of a veteran, she was inculcated in the cultural mythologies of the Lost Cause and white supremacy. The Lumpkin children responded differently to their upbringing: although Katharine’s eldest sister, Elizabeth, remained committed to the Lost Cause, another sister, Grace, later wrote a series of leftist novels.
As Lumpkin describes in her autobiography, her racial attitudes slowly but irrevocably changed during her undergraduate and graduate careers. She attended Brenau College in Gainesville from 1912 to 1915 and worked there as a teaching assistant following her graduation. In 1918 she moved on to Columbia University in New York, where she received an M.A. in sociology the following year. Between 1920 and 1925 Lumpkin worked as the national student secretary for the YWCA’s southern region. In 1925 she entered the sociology program at the University of Wisconsin, where she earned a Ph.D. in 1928.
After year-long appointments as an instructor at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts, and a postdoctoral fellow at the Social Sciences Research Council in New York City, Lumpkin spent the next two decades as a director of research, first at Smith College’s Council of Industrial Studies (1932-39), then at the Institute of Labor Studies (1940-53), both in Northampton, Massachusetts. During this time, her scholarly output was prodigious. She published The Family: A Study of Member Roles (1933), Shutdowns in the Connecticut Valley: A Study of Worker Displacement in the Small Industrial Community (1934), Child Workers in America (with Dorothy W. Douglas, 1937), and The South in Progress (1940). This last work saw a return to Lumpkin’s southern roots that continued in her next work, The Making of a Southerner (1947). Part family history, part autobiography, and part sociological study, The Making of a Southerner describes Lumpkin’s transition from passive inheritance of white supremacy to conscious rejection of the racial values of a segregated South.
After a year (1956-56) as a lecturer at Mills College in Oakland, California, Lumpkin took a position in 1957 as professor of sociology at Wells College in Aurora, New York. For the next decade she remained at Wells, where she taught a course, “The Negro Minority in American Life,” that often focused on contemporary events in the civil rights struggle. In 1967 she retired to Charlottesville, Virginia, where she taught extension courses at the University of Virginia and was active in the League of Women Voters. She continued to lecture and write and in 1974 published The Emancipation of Angelina Grimke, a study of the important nineteenth-century abolitionist from South Carolina. In 1979 she moved to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where she died on May 5, 1988.
Although Lumpkin’s long, rich career was marked by achievement in several areas, it is for her autobiography that she will be remembered. In The Making of a Southerner, she left a classic testament of her conflict as a white southerner committed to racial justice in a culture where little was to be found. In 2016 she was inducted into the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame.