Indiana State University Newsroom

Noted sociologist to be honored Friday

November 6, 2014

Indiana State faculty and alumni are set to honor on Friday a retired sociology professor, described by his peers as a trailblazer.

James E. Conyers, 82, will be presented with the Distinguished Faculty of African and African-American Studies Award as part of the weekend's biennial reunion of The Incorporated Gathering, an alumni group of African-Americans who graduated in 1975 and before.

"Awards are generally given as the result of what people consider scholarship and service to a field of study. I'm humbled by it. I expect Indiana State will make me more humble," said Conyers, who still lives in Terre Haute. "I hope I'm deserving of (the award)."

Indeed he is, said Christopher Olsen, professor and chair of the history department.

"Conyers was a real pioneer in so many ways. He was ISU's first African-American faculty member when he was hired in 1962, and we tend to celebrate and honor him in that way now," Olsen said. "But he was a major force in the field of sociology, a distinguished national scholar, who I've seen referred to as the ‘father' of modern sociology. He produced so much impressive, even brilliant, scholarship."

Conyers, a native of South Carolina and graduate of Morehouse, started teaching sociology at Lemoyne College in Memphis when he was just 23 years old.

"There were some people who started their careers quite young," he said. "Twenty-three - I identified with most all of the faculty and the students. In fact, I married one of the students."

He left the classroom two years later to serve in the U.S. Army. Upon being honorably discharged after a two-year stint, Conyers opted to continue his education at the University of Washington, earning a doctorate in sociology.

"When I finished, I headed straight to Indiana State," Conyers said.

He would become the first African-American faculty member, hired as an assistant professor by Cloyd Anthony, the then chair of the Social Science Division at what was known as Indiana State College.

Conyers' respect for Anthony is still apparent today, and Anthony went on to hire several other minority faculty members within a five-year period -- years ahead of other departments.

Conyers briefly left Indiana State in the 1960s to join Atlanta University's graduate faculty. He returned to Terre Haute in 1968 and remained on the Indiana State faculty until his retirement in 1996.

An avid researcher and writer, Conyers' work was recognized by both his peers and national media. He participated in many professional associations, even founding the Association of Black Sociologists.

Because of his professional and personal connections, he brought numerous high-profile speakers to Indiana State, including renowned sociologist William Julius Wilson and civil rights activist Julian Bond.

Conyers' career is also marked by his dedication to mentoring students. During the tumultuous '60s and early '70s on campus, Conyers and his colleague Andre Hammonds, also a sociology faculty member, were stabilizing forces for students.

Conyers also helped establish the African and African-American Studies program at Indiana State - one of the first of its kind in the nation and boasts 42 years continually running, Olsen said.


Contact: Christopher Olsen, professor and chair, department of history, Indiana State University, 812-237-2710 or

Writer: Libby Roerig, media relations assistant director, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3790 or