Bradford H. Gray
My time at UNC was brief but memorable. I came to the Department of Sociology as an instructor in the fall of 1971 while completing my dissertation (“Clinical Investigation in Medicine: A Sociological Investigation”) at Yale. (It was published by Wiley-Interscience as “Human Subjects in Medical Experimentation” in 1975.) I completed work on the dissertation during my first year. However, I waited a few months before submitting it to delay for a year the automatic up-or-out decision re promotion from assistant to associate professor. My idea was to maximize time for generating publications that would affect that decision. As things eventually worked out, that seems amusing, but I was clearly lacking in confidence and, perhaps, savvy.
The position for which I was hired was joint with the still new Health Services Research Center (now the Sheps Center) and was engineered by the great Cecil Sheps who had started the Center with a 1968 federal grant and was the vice-chancellor for health affairs at the University. My office, however, was in the sociology department and my primary focus was there.
My long-time colleague, Gordon DeFriese, was hired that same year with a similar joint appointment, but he engaged more deeply with the Center than I did and eventually became its director and had a distinguished career at UNC. He and I taught at least one course together; I enjoyed that and learned a lot from him. We have continued to have professional contact throughout our careers, and we both were elected to the Institute of Medicine (now the National Academy of Medicine) at the National Academy of Sciences. So, good for the fall of 1971 at UNC.
Daniel Chirot also came to the department that same fall. He and my family both bought houses between Chapel Hill and Durham near Duke Forest, and he and I have remained friends. He left UNC soon after I did, though there was no connection. Dan knew John Reed from grad school at Columbia, and John and his wife Dale had a daughter who was about my daughter’s age. The two families became friendly, and I’ve maintained contact with John over the years.
The other people I was closest to—Chic Goldsmid and Bob Stauffer—also left some time after I did. I’ve had some continuing contact with Chic, as I will explain shortly.
In the fall of 1974, I took leave of absence after I was invited by Professor Bernard Barber at Barnard College to work with him for a year on a joint project and book on human experimentation. I moved to New York with my family, which then also included a son. The ethics of research involving human subjects was a very hot topic. The National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research was created by legislation in 1974. My dissertation was an empirical study of how people became involved as research subjects. It was the only such research at the time. Soon after beginning work with Bernard on our project, I was contacted by the National Commission and was asked to join the staff, which I did in December of 1974, moving to Bethesda, MD.
When my subsequent request for a second year on my leave of absence from UNC was denied, I resigned and the UNC phase of my career ended. Although I had been quite happy in Chapel Hill, the decision was not difficult. I found that I enjoyed working in a multi-disciplinary setting with a topical focus more than in a single disciplinary setting where everyone pursued his or her own interests. I’ve continued in multi-disciplinary settings throughout my career—at two bioethics commissions, the Institute of Medicine (where I was a study director), Yale (where I directed the Institution for Social and Policy Studies), New York Academy of Medicine (where I started a health policy research division), and the Urban Institute from which I am close to retirement at age 74.
I have fond memories of UNC. The year I arrived was the department’s last year in the Alumni Building, and the department was a very friendly place. There was a group who often went to lunch together at a deli on Franklin Street: Gary Jensen, Al Jacobson, Dick Cramer, and others. The talk, though, seldom related to sociology. I remember the first time I ordered a corned beef sandwich. The waiter asked if I wanted “ra” (rhyming with Ha). I didn’t know what he meant. Someone explained that was the local pronunciation of “rye”.
One of the most remarkable things that happened on my arrival in Chapel Hill was that Gerry Lenski asked me if I would like to share season tickets for Tar Heel basketball. I quickly agreed. He had great seats and I enjoyed every game I attended. That was very nice of him, and I’ve never forgotten it.
The only collaboration I developed at UNC (other than a minor one at the Health Services Research Center) was with Patrick Horan. I had a research idea and he had the analytic chops, and the result was a nice little paper on “Status Inconsistency and Coronary Heart Disease” using data that had been collected by Stan Kasl at Yale who became a colleague of mine 15 years later.
Although I liked UNC very much (and remain a Tarheels fan), I think I was better suited elsewhere. My interests proved to be less in sociology (as was predicted when my request for a second year of leave was denied) than in interdisciplinary topics—first bioethics and then health policy.
Second, even though I grew up on a ranch and went to college in a town somewhat like Chapel Hill (Stillwater, Oklahoma), I missed urban amenities that I had experienced in Washington DC and New Haven. If we wanted to see a movie, we usually had to go to Durham, not the lone theater on Franklin Street, and hearing jazz meant a drive to Raleigh, where I remember seeing young Bette Midler at the Frog and Nightgown (memory is amazing).
But North Carolina was also a desert regarding a serious side-interest that I had developed while in graduate school—book collecting, specifically in the history of sociology (and later, in social thought more generally). While in grad school at Yale, I started building a collection of first editions of books by the founding fathers of American sociology—Small, Giddings, Sumner, Ross, and Ward. I had a pretty nice little collection going by the time I came to UNC because there were many used book stores in Connecticut (and New York) where these books could be found for a dollar or two (or even less).
There was one used bookstore in Chapel Hill and one in Durham. I found no others in the state, though there was a fine Civil War dealer (Tom Broadfoot) in Wake Forest (the town) who dealt from his home. I added to my collection during those years by expanding my interests to include the sociologists from UNC (Odum, Johnson, etc.). I even found a cache of Odum journal reprints in the bullpen on the top floor of the Alumni Building. But for a book collector, North Carolina was pretty much a desert.
But I will mention three books that I acquired while in NC. One was an inscribed, presentation copy of Howard Odum’s dissertation, Social and Mental Traits of the Negro: Research into the Conditions of the Negro Race in Southern Towns. A Study in Race Traits, Tendencies and Prospects. : From Columbia University Studies in History, Economics and Public Law. New York: Columbia University, 1910. I bought it from Tom Broadfoot, who dealt in Southern Americana as well as the Civil War.
The other two were by Odum and Guy Johnson—The Negro and His Songs: A Study of Typical Negro Songs in the South (UNC Press, 1925) and Negro Workaday Songs (UNC Press, 1926). The latter now includes a lovely inscription to me from Johnson (who was still very much alive), and both have letters to me from Johnson laid in.
Johnson himself had a very serious book collection that focused as I recall on the English poor laws in the 17th and 18th century. He wondered if I might be interested in buying his collection, but it was both outside the scope of my collection as I was defining it at the time and it was worth far more than I could afford. I put him in touch with a dealer that I knew would be interested, Patterson Smith, who bought the collection and took it to New Jersey. Pat in turn let me pick a few items from his stock as my commission. The only one I recall was a book that I had never seen before, The Milk and Honey Route: A Handbook for Hobos by Dean Stiff, a pseudonym of Nels Anderson, whose book, The Hobo (1921), was the first book in the extraordinary University of Chicago Sociological Series. Anderson had inscribed Milk and Honey “This may not be good English but it was fun writing” and signed it with his real name.
It might seem superficial to have mentioned the dearth of used bookstores as a factor in thinking about where to live, but that ignores the psychology of the collector. Leaving Chapel Hill provided opportunity to more actively pursue my collecting interests, and I eventually built a collection of some 3,000 items going back to the 18th Century and fine first editions of people like Comte, Weber, Durkheim and, of course, virtually all the sociology and social studies that came out of UNC Press up through the 1940s. The collection is now at the Beinecke Rare Book Library at Yale.
My collection had one notable side effect related to my time in Chapel Hill. My friend and sociology colleague Chic Goldsmid became a rare book dealer of considerable distinction after he left UNC. In an interview on the website of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America, he attributes his realization that bookselling might be a career option for a lapsed academic to conversations with me about collecting, my collection, and the book trade. He discovered, though, that he could not make a living in the market for sociology books. He specialized in scholarly books more broadly, as well as Western Americana and fine printing. I once enjoyed a visit to his lovely store in Claremont CA when I was at a conference nearby, and I was thrilled to see him in his booth at the New York Antiquarian Book Fair a few years ago. He had great books, but unfortunately nothing for my collection.
But back to UNC and Chapel Hill, the politics of the state were uncomfortable, as Jesse Helms went from being a television editorialist to US Senator. Since no one I knew was going to vote for him, his election was a surprise. (I don’t recall that polling information was available.) So Chapel Hill was an island, as well as a desert.
I also had a disturbing experience. Driving home on a back road after working in my office one evening, I interrupted a sexual assault involving a 30ish white man and a teenage black girl. She had escaped his car. After recording his license number, which led to his arrest that same night, I drove her home to Durham where her parents were frantic. She had been waiting for them to pick her up outside her job (some sort of work-study I think) at the UNC hospital, and this man stopped and told her that he was an under-cover policeman and she was violating a curfew. He ordered her into his car and drove to the spot where my headlights interrupted him. I testified at his trial, and he had all sorts of character witnesses (including, by letter as I recall, from the Catholic bishop of NC). Such testimony was his entire defense, and to my shock and horror, he was acquitted.
I returned to CH only once in the next 40 years (a visit some 20 years ago to my step-son who was in grad school in economics) before this past fall when I had an overnight there on my way to Georgia for my wife’s family reunion. To my delight, Dick Cramer was available for a glass of wine, and we had a delightful hour or two reminiscing about people and events. Franklin Street looked very familiar, and the campus was as beautiful as ever.
Well, for someone whose time in CH was so brief, I’ve gone on far too long. But I thank Dick Cramer for providing occasion for me to write this, which I will also share with relatives who may be interested. And best wishes to any former colleagues who may read it. I live in Washington, DC and can be reached at
Submitted January 2017