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Dr. Wilson A. Head (1914–1993) was an American sociologist social worker known for his work on racial issues in the United States and Canada.

Early life

Wilson Head was the son of a Georgia sharecropper, the eldest of five children. Over time, due to the unscrupulous practices of the white land owners, thousands of sharecroppers were unable to make an adequate living to support their families, and were forced to give up the farms in search of employment in the ghettos of the larger cities. With the death of his father from an unknown illness (poor blacks had little to no access to medical care in the 1920s) when Wilson was 11 years of age, leaving his mother, aged 27, to raise her family of 5 children, they lived in abject poverty for a number of years. Wilson was nonetheless, determined to get an education. To get his high school education, he had to work during the day to help with household expenses, and pay for his books and transportation to school. Black students at that time who lived in what Wilson termed "the Deep South" (ref 1) where segregation due to the Jim Crow laws reigned, had to bus to an all black school several miles away instead of walking to a nearby all white school. Wilson graduated from Booker T. Washington high school in 1933. He then worked as a janitor at Eastern Airlines in Atlanta, Georgia for a year to earn the money to attend his first year of college after which he returned to that job for two more years to earn enough money for his second year of college.

Wilson Head graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Education with a major in Sociology, 1940, Tuskegee Institute, Tuskegee, Alabama, by which time he had been named in "Who's Who among Students in American Colleges and Universities", 1940. (ref 2)

In his memoires, A Life on the Edge: Experiences in Black and White in North America (ref 1), Dr. Head reviews the influences that shaped his life, in particular, the poverty, injustices, and indignities to which Black people in the southern United States were subjected, and which he experienced during his early years. In his memoires (ref 1), Dr. Head makes an extensive analysis of the origin and sustaining influences including economical, psychological and political, of racism in the United States from its inception to the present day. In the 1930s Dr. Head took part in a series of "sit-ins" on restaurants and bars, and protested against barbers, shop keepers, and movie house owners who would not serve blacks, long before the civil rights movement began with the Montgomery bus boycott by Rosa Park's refusal to sit at the back of the bus.

At the time military recruitment for WWII, just as Wilson was wondering how he was going to handle the inevitable opposition he would face, given his determination to be a conscientious objector to military service, he was invited by the secretary of the Tuskegee campus YMCA to attend a work camp in Chicago with the Quakers. The Quakers gave him the moral support he needed at that time against the inevitable criticism from authority figures of all kinds who were not used to or prepared for a Black person to take an independent stand against society's expectations. One result of the opposition he experienced included harassment by the Ku Klux Klan (ref 1).


In his 70s, Dr. Head developed progressive vision loss due to detached retinae and repeated surgeries for cataracts. He was diagnosed with cancer of the prostate in 1979, which eventually led to his death in 1993. His ashes are encrypted at Knox United Church, Midland Avenue at Sheppard Avenue East, Agincourt, Ontario (ref 3).


Dr. Head's belief system, which was well reflected in his work and personal life, was staunchly egalitarian, forthrightness, moral courage, pacifism, and simplicity of lifestyle. He detested elitism, authoritarianism of any kind, and haughtiness.

Wilson was raised in the Baptist Church, but became a member of the Quakers (also called Society of Friends) in the 1940s.


He worked at times with the Congress of Racial Equality and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Dr. Head's social work practise was nearly always in community development as, for instance, when he was director of community development and community organization at Flanner House in Indianapolis, which served poor and indigent Black people. Elsewhere, his practice involved helping youths to overcome mental health problems (ref 1).

Prior to immigrating to Canada in 1959, he had worked in Chicago as director of Parkway Community House and in Ohio as the head of the state of Ohio Juvenile Diagnostic Centre. In Ontario, he worked as director of various community service departments and in 1965 became director for the Social Planning Council of Metropolitan Toronto. When he came to Canada, he became the executive Director of the Windsor Group Therapy Project, and in 1965 he became the Director of research and planning with the research and planning council of Metropolitan Toronto.

He lectured part-time in Social Work at a number of educational institutions including the University of Windsor, 1960-1964, University of Michigan, 1962-1964, Wayne State University, 1963-1965 and Sir Williams College, Chicago, 1961-1964. He was involved with a number of organizations including the Canadian Civil Liberties Association of Toronto as vice-president, 1967, National Welfare Council founding member and National Black Coalition of Canada, chairman and president, 1977-1982. Dr. Head became the first chairman of the Bachelor of Social Work Program at Atkinson College, York University. He has written various articles and research studies including "The Black Presence in the Canadian Mosaic", "The Adaptation of Immigrants" (ref 4).

In addition to employment, Dr. Head unceasingly, whatever city he lived in, in his long career, performed volunteer activities to help poor communities, including organizing playgrounds, basket ball and tennis courts, setting up community centres, dance halls, establishing boy scout troupes, putting on series of one-act plays, and camps for youth. Whatever city he lived in, he soon became known as someone who could be called on at anytime to speak at various events, work shops, luncheons, churches, educational institutions, etc. It was this volunteer community service that led him to receive the Harry Jerome award in Toronto, Ontario, 1988.


UARR (Urban Alliance on Race Relations), Toronto, Ontario In May, 1975, Dr. Head, recognizing the need for more vigilant advocacy for the rights of minority groups, sent a proposal to the Secretary of State and to the Ontario Human Rights Commission for funding. The proposal was accepted, and Dr. Head gathered together seven concerned Torontonians who then met in a small restaurant to discuss issues of grave concern to them, including the increasing frequency of hate-motivated violence against African and South Asian Canadians in Toronto’s streets, subways and shopping plazas. This group – Sam Fox of the Metro Labour Council, Wilson Head, Marvin Novick and Anella Parker of the Social Planning Council of Metro Toronto, Ben Kayeftz of the Canadian Jewish Congress, and Al Hershkobvitz and Terry Meagher worked together to form the Urban Alliance on Race Relations (UARR) still today a strong and thriving political voice in Ontario and the model of other race relations advocacy groups throughout North America. UARR "Addressing inequality in our society is critical. We work primarily and proactively with the community, public and private sectors to provide educational programs and research through our non-profit charitable organization".

Who's who in Black Canada 2 : Black success and Black excellence in Canada: a contemporary directory / Dawn P. Williams, 2006. His autobiography Life on the Edge: Experiences in "Black and White" in North America - 1993 - has a forward by the late Honorable Lincoln Alexander, and an Epilogue by Madame Rosalie Silberman Abella.

A scholarship in Dr. Wilson Head's name has been set up at York University through donations from his many friends to provide financial assistance to one or more students each year who demonstrate a particular interest in the areas of human rights, race relations and/or peace. The first scholarship was awarded in September, 1994.

The Dr. Wilson Head Institute, 675 King Street West, #202, Toronto, Ontario was established in the Spring of 1995, to advance and promote human rights and diversity management.

Wilson began the School of Social Work at York University in 1966, starting with only two night classes which were set up to assist those adult students who had to work during the day. The York University School of Social Work has since grown into a large, well recognized school. Students at York University School of Social Work receive a professional social work education that is characterized by a commitment to human rights and social justice.


1. Graduated from Booker T. Washington High School, Atlanta, Georgia, 1933. 2. Bachelor of Science in Education with a major in Sociology, 1940, Tuskegee Institute, Tuskegee, Alabama. 3. University of Georgia, Master's degree in Social Work 1942. Ohio State University, doctoral degree in Sociology, Adult Education, and Social Psychology, 1958.


1. Alpha Kappa Mu, a national honor society, 1940. 2. Harry Jerome Award, 1988 for community service. 3. Honorary Doctor of Laws degree, York University, 1982.


ref 1: *Autobiography, Life on the Edge: Experiences in "Black and White" in North America, published 1993. ref 2: *Who's Who in Black Canada 2: Black success and Black excellence in Canada: a contemporary directory. Main Author: Dawn P. Williams. ref 3: Knox United Church, 2569 Midland Avenue at Sheppard Avenue East, Agincourt, Ontario. ref 4: York University, Downsview, Ontario, Canada, Ross library stacks.

  • Encyclopedia of Canadian Social Work, by Francis J. Turner.
  • UARR, 1001 – 2 Carlton St., Toronto, Ontario, website.
  • Www.Archives
  • The Black Community in the History of Quebec and Canada: Unit 8 - the Post-War Years.

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