Anthropologist Melville J. Herskovits' (1895-1963) work helped to shape how
African-Americans in the United States were viewed and viewed themselves.
By 1930, he challenged the prevailing view that "Negro" life-ways were only
an incomplete and pathological version of mainstream American culture. In
contrast, he contributed a scholarly foundation to the claim that elements
of African culture had survived in the Americas. His work supported the New
Negro movement and the emergence of pan-African identity. Curiously, howev
er, Herskovits argued that the Jews, another diasporic group, had no distin
ctive culture nor were they a people. This paper reviews the development of
Herskovits' views in relation to: (1) concepts of race and culture in mode
rn anthropology; (2) public controversies concerning assimilation versus pa
rticularism of blacks and Jews in the 1920s and 1930s; and (3) Herskovits'