Oran W. Eagleson


Honorary Degree (1985)
Doctor of Science
Location: Bloomington
Presenter: John W. Ryan


A pioneer in the development of black perspectives in psychology, Oran W. Eagleson has devoted a lifetime of teaching and research to advancing the educational and career opportunities of young black men and women. His scholarship, his commitment to excellence, and the impact of his personality have provided for thousands of students, and his colleagues, an example of achievement that is the most enduring contribution of the teacher.

Dr. Eagleson was born in Unionville, Indiana, in 1910. He followed his brother, Halson V. Eagleson, to Indiana University. While studying for the A.B. in psychology, and at the same time working to finance his education, he was elected to Sigma Xi, the honorary science society. Dr. Eagleson received the A.B. in 1931, and went on to earn the A.M. in 1931, and the Ph.D. in 1935. It was a manifestation of his brilliance and determination that he achieved the highest degree in psychology at a time when this was virtually unheard of for one of his race, and indeed he was only the third black person in the United States to hold a doctorate in this field.

In his many published articles and research studies, Dr. Eagleson has contributed to the understanding of racial and mental characteristics as they relate to intelligence and educational achievement. He has been concerned in particular with the role of black psychologists and the use of black subjects to develop an understanding of the experience of black individuals and a broader perception of human behavior. His work in this area made him a leader in recognizing the problems facing blacks when psychology began to focus on the black experience in the 1960s and 1970s, turning the spotlight of rigorous analysis on misconceptions that had prevailed. One of Dr. Eagleson's most significant articles, "Comparative Studies of White and Negro Subjects in Learning to Discriminate Visual Magnitude," developed from his doctoral dissertation and published in 1937, continues to be referred to by scholars in the field. His current research interests are concerned with basic questions and research methods in the black perspective in psychology, the use of psychological instruments for racial comparisons, and religious attitudes and values systems among college students.

Oran Eagleson began his teaching career at North Carolina College at Durham in January of 1936. In the fall of that year he joined the faculty of Spelman College in Atlanta as a teacher of psychology and education and has remained at Spelman since that time. During World War II he also served as a psychometrist for the Veterans Administration. In 1970, in recognition of his distinguished teaching and scholarship, he was selected as the first Fuller E. Callaway Professor, Spelman College's highest academic honor.

During his career at Spelman College, Dr. Eagleson also has been a member of the faculty of Atlanta University. Through his affiliation with these and other colleges of the Atlanta University Center consortium, he has been for a half a century a dynamic force in the development of innovative programs and directions in education in Atlanta. Oran Eagleson has had an impact on the lives of generations of students. A master craftsman in the classroom, a stimulating, scholarly, and demanding teacher, he motivates his students to set high goals for themselves and to fulfill their greatest potential. Through his encouragement, guidance, and concern for individual educational and career needs, he has inspired a large number of his students to pursue advanced degrees in a broad range of disciplines. Many professionals, both nationally and internationally, attribute their success in large measure to his commitment and dedication to excellence.

The sincerity of his interest has been underscored by his energetic contributions to the growth and development of the College. During his teaching career Dr. Eagleson served in several administrative roles and his wisdom and tactful leadership influenced the growth of Spelman College. He became the first dean of instruction at Spelman in 1954. In that position, which he held until his return to fulltime teaching in 1970, he had a profound influence on the strengthening of the curriculum and the development of members of the faculty as teachers. He was also the first chairman of the Department of Psychology, chairman of the Division of Social Sciences, chairman of the Honors Program when that was first instituted, and of many other committees. He spearheaded several programs in various disciplines and promoted policies that significantly enhanced the academic environment.

Dr. Eagleson has placed his energy, experience, and knowledge at the service of the Atlanta community. Among other activities, he has served as consultant to the Head Start Training Program, as co-director of the Morehouse-Spelman Intensified Pre-College Program, and as a consultant to the Atlanta Public Schools and the Decatur School System. He has received many honors, including the award for "Outstanding Contribution to the Black Community" of the Southern Regional Education Board, and the "Guiding Light" award for outstanding leadership in Psychology from the National Association of Black Psychologists.

Although he officially retired in 1980, Oran Eagleson continues to teach at Spelman College and Atlanta University, and to offer the benefit of his counsel to students and colleagues.