Thomas Lucien Vincent Blair
Born: East Harlem, New York, USA
Occupation: Professor of sociology, town planning and international development, cyber-scholar, community advocate
Universities: Northeastern B.A., 1950, Boston M.A. 1951, Michigan State Ph. D, 1956 University of London M.A., attended Lincoln University and Columbia University
Spouse: Myrtle Desmond Blair, artist
Children: Lucille, Katharine, Gage, and Ellen
Web: British Library main catalog of print and born-digital works and the Chronicle world journal on Black Britain founded 1997
Motto: To Know and Serve
Thomas L Blair (June 9, 1926 – ) is an American sociologist whose themed works focus on scholars and citizens for social justice and environmental action in world regions. They include Retreat to the Ghetto (on USA civil rights), The Poverty of Planning (failure to address the global urban crisis), The Audacity of Cyberspace (community struggle for internet power), and a contribution to The Environmental Handbook: Action Guide for the UK.
Resident in Britain since 1963, Professor Blair founded the nation’s first Social and Environmental Planning Department at the Polytechnic of Central London in the 1970s -1980s. Upon retirement, he tutored Black and Asian scholars at Oxford University for visionary leadership 1994-95. From 1997 he published the Chronicleworld internet journal on Black Britain, Afro-Europe, and the African Diaspora Cultures. The British Library’s main catalog holds his print works and more than 100 E-books linking social science to new digital media and smart, creative communities. His works are also presented in the Library of Congress, Google Scholar, and the World Catalog.
Early life 1926-1945
Blair was born June 9, 1926, to Lucy Gage from Montserrat and Thomas Blair Sr. of Jamaica, British West Indies. He grew up on East 100th Street — in the low-income, culturally diverse East Harlem immigrant district of New York City. There, amidst the obsolescent tenements, the aspiring teenager refused to hang around the streets and bars – instead, he played basketball in the playgrounds and marshalled campaigning ‘clean-up, fix-up’ youth squads.
Blair’s social instincts matured at multi-racial public schools during the depression and the war years 1933-1945. At Lincoln University, the historically Black university1944, he discovered Black sociologists advocating racial justice in America and worldwide: E Franklin Frazier, Charles S Johnson, Oliver Cox, and the pan-African socialist W E B Du Bois. Thus stimulated, he went on to earn his sociology degrees – a B.A, at Northeastern University in 1950 and M.A. from Boston University in 1951.
Postgraduate sociology studies at Columbia University in 1952-1952 under the theoretician Robert K Merton and the empiricist Paul Lazarsfeld were a boon. But an independent study at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture triggered his urge to better reflect the missing dimension – the plight and prospects of non-white Americans and the worlds of color. As a result, Blair earned a Ph.D. from Michigan State University for his thesis on mass communications in rural Brazil in 1956.
Blair believes sociologists should not simply educate – they must teach life. He started his career teaching Fundamental Education to Black youth at Jarvis Christian College in dirt-poor, racially tense 1950s rural Texas. Then his community action projects at the State University of New York College, New Paltz 1956-1960 led privileged white students to bond with low-paid Black and Puerto Rican fruit pickers. In addition, he created the first African Studies course in the college and university system from 1956-1960.
Blair’s professional career spans decades across diverse communities and continents. His projects include innovative new towns in Britain in the 1970s-1980s. As well as urban renewal in the worst areas of Black and working-class housing in London and in major European cities for the Council of Europe, Strasbourg.
Blair has advised governments in Angola, Indonesia, Malaysia and surveyed needs in Kenya’s low-income settlements for the United Nations Habitat Conference 1976. He helped design strategies for livable Asian cities for the Delft Institute for Water and Environmental Planning, Netherlands 1991-93.
Named in The Blair Family of Hertford (England) website, Blair’s life and career intertwined. His artist wife Myrtle Desmond Blair was his traveling companion in Nigeria, Algeria, France, and Britain, along with his four daughters Lucille, Katharine, Gage, and Ellen.
Blair received a John Hay Whitney Foundation grant in Latin American Studies 1953-1954. His Ford Foundation fellowship for African Studies at Boston University funded his urbanisation research in Kano, Nigeria 1960-1962. In Britain, he received a Royal Society of Arts FRSA fellowship in the 1990s and earned an M.A. in Urban Studies from Goldsmiths College, University of London 1997.
Blair is cited in Mabel Smythe The Black American Reference Book 1976 edition. He has held distinguished visiting professorships at George Washington University 1985, the University of Virginia, VA. 1987-1988, and at Howard University and Hampton University, the historically Black institutions, in the 1980s.
Blair collaborated with the humanist Professor Alfred McClung Lee to found the eco-campaigning Friends of the Earth and the Society for the Study of Social Problems in 1951. Seeking durable solutions to Africa’s challenges, he joined scholars — the pan-Africanist W E B Du Bois and Kenneth Dike historian-educator and Ghana’s first President Kwame Nkrumah to create the Encyclopedia Africana 1961-1962.
Blair’s work is published in professional journals: the British Journal of Sociology, Royal Institute of British Architects, Official Architecture and Planning, CITIES, Habitat International and Présence Africaine.
His invited professorial lectureships and speeches include the Cambridge University Martin Centre for Architecture and Urban Studies 1980s and the Oxford University Students’ Union debate on British race relations 2001.
Professor Blair’s works have an immediacy and vitality that continues to stimulate action. Sociology, the science of society, has an essential role in solving social problems. His British Library’s main catalog of print and born-digital works and Chronicleworld website are analytical voices promoting action on contemporary social problems.
No stranger to issues of the day, his independent work on the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020-2022 drew attention to its social effects on Black Britons. Broadly, his emphasis on the struggle for community cyber-power, sustainable environment, and climate change chart fruitful lines of inquiry. In sum, Professor Blair urges, nay demands a transformative step: sociologists must participate with people for beneficial change, thereby remodeling the discipline itself.