Although best known for his achievements as a historian and public intellectual, Rayford Logan (1897-1982) was, at heart, an activist devoted to the advancement of Africans and their descendants all over the world. After being exposed to racist treatment by white officers during his service in World War I (1917-1918), Logan remained in France after the war to coordinate the second Pan African Congress. He worked closely with NAACP co-founder W.E.B. Du Bois and the anti-colonialist Haitian diplomat Dante Bellegarde. Pan Africanists called for ending colonial European abuse of Africans and for African American civil rights. Logan later became the NAACP's consultant on colonial affairs.
In 1934, Logan made news in New York when he and his wife Ruth walked off a ship about to set sail for Haiti, refusing to be confined to the overcrowded "tourist" section reserved exclusively for non-white passengers. "The Haitian government cannot expect the sympathetic support that American colored folk have given it in the past, if it continues to permit ships of this line to come to Haiti," he protested. The Logans received a full refund.
Logan helped organize voter registration drives and citizenship schools during the 1920s and 1930s, pioneering a program to teach black southerners how to resist white intimidation at the polls. During World War II (1941-45), he chaired a federal committee on black participation in the military, co-authored President Franklin D. Roosevelt's executive order outlawing racial discrimination in government contracts, and persuaded the president to assign more black soldiers to active duty.
Logan was a member of the NAACP's national board for many years, and was awarded the organization's prestigious Spingarn Medal in 1980. Logan wrote hundreds of articles and numerous books during his many years as a history professor and department chair at Howard University. Among his best-known works is a title that described what Logan identified as the lowest point in American race relations: The Negro In American Life And Thought: The Nadir, 1877 to 1901, published in 1954.
Logan commissioned African American architect Hilyard Robinson to design his house at 1519 Jackson Street NE in 1939. It has since been demolished and replaced with a new one on the site.