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Valien, Preston (1914-1995) | Amistad Research Center

Name: Valien, Preston (1914-1995)

Historical Note:

Preston Valien, researcher and sociologist, Fisk University, Nashville, Tennessee.

Preston Valien was born February 19, 1914 in Beaumont, Texas. His parents were Fred and Odelia Valien. Preston attended Charlton Pollard High School where he graduated in 1930 at the top of his class. He then went on to Prairie View State College where he was in a number of extra-curricular activities including debating and dramatics. In 1934, Valien graduated with honors from Prairie View State College and continued his education at the University of Wisconsin where he received a master’s and doctorate in 1935 and 1947. He also did post-doctoral studies at the University of Pennsylvania. He received an honorary LL.D. from Rio Grande College in 1971 and an honorary Doctorate of Humanities from Rust College in 1974.

During the summer of 1934-1935 Valien served as an Instructor of Social Sciences at Prairie View College in the Social Science Department. Immediately after completing his Masters of Philosophy degree from the University of Wisconsin, he was employed as the Director of Research for the Federal Civil Service Commission in Washington D.C. Under Valien’s leadership, the Commission came out with a groundbreaking report, National Survey of Training and Experiences of Urban Negro Workers 1936-1937.

In 1938, Valien began a career that was devoted to higher education when he was hired as a faculty member at Fisk University, a private liberal arts college founded in 1866 by the American Missionary Association in order to educate minorities. Valien served as an Instructor in the Department of Social Sciences and worked under Dr. Charles S. Johnson, prominent sociologist, author, educator, and college president. Dr. Charles S.  Johnson had formally established the Social Sciences Department at Fisk University in 1928, and also helped to establish the University as a major center for social research, especially in the field of race relations. Dr. Johnson and Dr. Valien became very close friends and collaborated on a number of articles, research projects and books including the Urban Negro Worker in the United States, 1925-1936.

In 1943, Valien served as an examiner in economics and statistics for the <span style="font-size: 12px;">Federal Civil Service Commission, and began his military service in the United States Army, which lasted until 1945. Following World War II Valien served as the Nashville Interviewing Supervisor for the National Opinion Research Center (1946-1949). In 1947 when Dr. Charles S. Johnson was elected president of Fisk University, Preston became chairman of the Social Science Department and director of its research program. He also held the rank of full professor of Sociology and was the head of the Social Science Institute. In 1950, Preston was named as a consultant to the Tennessee Valley Authority. He worked for the Division of Regional Studies where he analyzed the population changes and the relationship of those changes to the economic opportunity in the Tennessee Valley. In 1952, Valien traveled to India to acquaint himself with sociological research, personnel and facilities at an Indian University, and to explore possibilities for collaboration on research between academic institutions in the United States and India.

While at Fisk, Valien enjoyed a long career writing several books, articles and papers, many focusing on desegregation, birth control, housing, migration and employment. From 1958-1960, he served as Senior Social Science Research Scientist and Associate Director of the Driver Institute. In 1960, he was named to the post of Cultural Affairs Officer at the American Embassy in Lagos, Nigeria. In 1962, he began teaching as an Associate Professor of Anthropology and Sociology at Brooklyn College where he stayed until 1965. In 1965 he was named director of the program analysis for the branch of the Office of Education where he also served as a Chief of the Graduate Academic Programs, Director of the Division of Graduate Programs, Deputy and later Associate Commissioner for Higher Education. While in this position he developed the criteria for the graduate facilities program, and developed and sponsored a series of legislative proposals that became the Prospective and Experienced Teachers Program in the Higher Education Act of 1965

Throughout his career he won numerous awards including the Superior Service award for his leadership during a difficult period in the history of American education, when he served to advance the cause of the expanding educational opportunities for the nation’s youth.

Preston and his wife, Bonita Valien collaborated on several projects. One of the most important collaborative projects was the study of desegregation of schools and the struggle for civil rights throughout the United States. They documented the everyday battle for freedom and human dignity that was occurring in the states of Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Washington D.C. They conducted surveys, interviews, took pictures and documented the social changes that were happening throughout the United States, including historical events such as the Alabama Bus Boycott where the Valien’s attended mass meetings, speeches and conferences. The Valien’s conducted several interviews including those with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks.

Note Author: Laura J. Thomson

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