Dr. Oscar W. Ritchie

A Scholar, First Among Many


There is one name on the Kent State University campus that is spoken by everyone, but not many people are familiar with whom that name belongs to. That name is Oscar W. Ritchie. Oscar Ritchie Hall currently houses the Center of Pan-African Culture, the Department of Pan African Studies, the Institute for African American Affairs, and segments of the School of Art. This same Oscar Ritchie Hall is the site of many of our Friday and Saturday night get togethers. (See the Floor Plans for the Center of Pan-African Culture.)

Who is Oscar W. Ritchie? Oscar Ritchie was born in 1909 in Hallendale, Florida, a few miles south of Fort Lauderdale. One of six children, his parents came over to Florida from the Caribbean where his father owned a fruit stand. Ritchie's father died when he was in high school. To help with the family expenses, he dropped out of school. Still, in 1926, he enrolled in Florida A&M University. While at FA&MU he founded and was editor of the newspaper on campus.

In 1929, the great depression hit and Ritchie dropped out of college. He played banjo in a band and soon left Florida with the band. They first went to Joliet, Illinois, and soon they wound up in Chicago. It was here that Ritchie married Edith and his only son George was born. After working odd jobs for a few years, Ritchie took his family to Cleveland, Ohio, where he got a job as a porter. He was content with this employment until 1933. At that time, he moved to Massillon and got a job at Republic Steel.

The president of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt, instituted a program to help get the economy going again. Ritchie participated in this program called the Works Program Administration (WPA), as the Massillon person in charge of teaching immigrants, mostly Greeks, studying for their citizenship tests. George Ritchie said this is where his father got his first teaching experience.

Oscar Ritchie came to Kent State University in 1942 to study Pre-law, and then he was to enter Law school. However, during the course of his study, he changed his major to Sociology. He received his Bachelor of Science degree in Sociology in 1946, but not without extreme effort. While a KSU student, he worked full time at a steel mill in Massillon, Ohio.
Ritchie began his graduate study at Kent State in 1946. He so impressed the chairman of the Sociology department, James T. Laing, that in 1947 he was named to fill a teaching vacancy created by the resignation of Harley Preston. Thus, as a graduate student, Ritchie held a position usually held by a full time faculty member.

That summer, Ritchie was awarded a scholarship to the Yale Institute of Alcoholic Studies. While at Yale, Ritchie received credit equivalent to residence credit at Kent. This allowed him to receive his Master's degree at the end of the summer. Ritchie created such a favorable impression on the Yale faculty, that his Master's thesis was later published in the Yale Quarterly Journal of Alcoholic Studies. His Master's thesis bore the title "A Sociological Analysis of Alcoholics Anonymous." 

Later Ritchie was recommended to Kent State University president George Bowman, to be appointed as a full time faculty member in the fall of 1947. Bowman agreed with the recommendation and Oscar W. Ritchie was given the position. His appointment to the faculty in 1947 made him the first African American to serve on the faculty and also made him the first African American professor to serve on the faculty of any predominantly white university in Ohio, a distinct honor. For Kent, Ohio, was one of the most discriminatory and racist small towns in northeastern Ohio and the University followed suit. It was, therefore, out of character for Kent State University to hire an African American scholar such as Oscar W. Ritchie. Ritchie was, in spite of his being a faculty member, condemned to tolerate the town's and University's dual student and faculty housing policy one exclusively for whites; the other exclusively for blacks he, his wife Edith, and his son George were relegated to live in the predominantly black section of the city, "the South End." In 1954, President Bowman would not even allow students to form a chapter of the NAACP on campus. According to him the "NAACP was a radical organization." Kent State's racist housing policies were not reversed until 1963 when Dr. Ritchie and some of his white campus colleagues in Sociology and other departments, e.g., English, protested the situation and threatened to leave the institution.

In 1948, Ritchie was awarded the coveted Julius Rosenwald Scholarship. Officials say this award is given "solely for the well-being of mankind." This award gave Kent State University national recognition because Ritchie was the first Kent State graduate to win this prestigious award. He was also presented with the Guggenheim Award, which is awarded to graduate students for advanced study. Ritchie spent the 1948-49 academic year studying at the University of Wisconsin. He returned to Kent in 1949 to resume his teaching duties. On May 28, 1952 Dr. Ritchie, then as an assistant professor, was accorded the honor of giving the annual Scholarship Day address, an honor usually reserved for older members of the faculty.

In 1955, Ritchie served as advisor for Kent State's newest Black fraternity, Kappa Alpha Psi. He remained as their advisor until 1956 when he was requested by the Bureau of Educational Research to come to Columbus. While at Ohio State University, he co-authored a study with his dissertation advisor, Dr. H. Ashley Weeks of the department of Sociology at New York University. The study, An Evaluation of the Services of the State of Ohio to it's Delinquent Children and Youth (1956),was later published. 

In 1958, Ritchie received his PhD in Sociology from New York University. His Dissertation was titled "Male Delinquents' Assessments of an Industrial School: A Study of the Relationship between Assessments and Length of Residence." In the dissertation's abstract (L C. Card No. Mic 58-7262), Ritchie wrote:

"Three assumptions were made in this study: (1) the industrial school is organized for the purpose of re-education or reform; (2) based on their conceptions of the industrial school experience, the students have their own assessments of the institution; and (3) when they are approached properly, the assessments elicited from the delinquents will be expressive of their attitudes and opinions concerning the institution. . . . 

"The universe of this study, is the oldest cottage-type industrial school for male delinquents in the United States. It is also the largest. Although the school's employee-student ratio was about one to four, the ratio of professional employees to students was far below generally accepted minimum standard. The school provides educational, vocational training, work, religious, and recreational programs, but largely because of its size and limited professional staff, it tends to be 'custody-centered' rather than 'treatment-centered.'"

He returned to Kent and helped establish the Epsilon Delta chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity and remained the advisor of the chapter from 1958 to 1962. His affiliation with the National Headquarters of Alpha Phi Alpha helped initiate the incorporation of Alpha Phi Alpha's Education Foundation. Dr. Ritchie was appointed, from 1966 until his death, Director of Educational Activities for Alpha Phi Alpha. 

Dr. Ritchie's work carried him beyond the Kent State campus. Along with Dr. Dwight I. Arnold, (Emeritus Professor), and Dr. John Guidabaldi (Chairman, Associate Professor, Early Childhood Ed.) in 1962, he co-founded the Portage County Family Planning, Counseling, and Mental Health Center in Ravenna. Dr. Ritchie continued his hard work at Kent State. He was so dedicated to the University that he turned down the offer of the prestigious W.E.B. DuBois chair of Sociology at Atlanta University. This was one of the highest honors a Black sociologist could have at that time. 

Ritchie had become nationally known, but he still remained active in the Massillon Urban League and was presented with the League's Service Award in 1966. He was highly respected by his colleagues and his students. When  Dr. Laing resigned as chairman of the Sociology department in 1967, Dr. Ritchie was turned to for leadership by the members of the department as they elected him acting chairman. During his twenty-nine years of service at Kent State University, Dr. Ritchie became the first person to hold every position in the department from graduate assistant, instructor, assistant professor, associate professor, professor, and chairman.

As department chairman, Ritchie's influence continued to spread among everyone he came in contact with. Those who knew him also saw illness begin to wear him down to the point that he could no longer teach his classes. His condition grew worse and on June 16, 1967, Dr. Oscar W. Ritchie died in Robinson Memorial Hospital in Ravenna, of lesions of the liver and lung. He was only 58 years old. Dr. Ritchie was survived by his wife, Edith, one brother, Alfred, one sister, Mary, his son, George. and three grandchildren, Jocelyn, Victoria, and Bradford.

To commemorate the memory of the late Dr. Oscar W. Ritchie, the building known to many of us as the institute or "the old student union," was dedicated as Oscar Ritchie Hall on November 10, 1977, in response to a proposal made by the Black United Students to the then President Brage Golding and the Board of Trustees. The Department of Pan-African Studies and the Center of Pan-African Culture and the Institute for African American Affairs are located in Oscar Ritchie Hall. Shortly after the dedication of the building, which made Dr. Ritchie also the first African American to have a predominantly white state college building named in his honor, the Oscar W. Ritchie Four-Year Scholarship Fund was initiated. In 1985, the brothers of Alpha Phi Alpha joined with the Department of Pan-African Studies to establish the Oscar W. Ritchie Freshman Textbook Loan Program.

He was hard working, dedicated, successful, and a man who liked to watch a good cowboy movie to relax. That's who Dr. Oscar Ritchie was. In essence he was very much more to many of those who knew him as students, friends and colleagues.


*This piece was originally written and published by Curtis T. Clingman, Staff Reporter, in Spectrum, September 17, 1979. HieroGraphics Online edited and revised it on March 16, 1998.

 


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