Papers of Linguist Lorenzo Dow Turner Donated to Amistad

The Amistad Research Center works closely with potential donors to acquire collections of historical significance, whether they be the papers of individuals and families or the records of organizations and businesses. Sometimes this process of donor cultivation can take years and sometimes donations can come “out of the blue.” A recent donation to the Center came unexpectedly from a long-time supporter of the Center and Amistad is proud to announce the acquisition of a small, but significant collection of materials related to linguist and academic Lorenzo Dow Turner.

Lorenzo Dow Turner (1890-1972) was an African American academic and linguist who did seminal research on the Gullah language of the Low Country of coastal South Carolina and Georgia. His studies included recordings of Gullah speakers in the 1930s. He taught at Howard University and Fisk University, created the African Studies curriculum at Fisk, served as chair of the African Studies Program at Roosevelt University in Chicago, and co-founded a training program for Peace Corps volunteers going to Africa.

Lorenzo Dow Turner

Lorenzo Dow Turner

The Turner papers encompass approximately 4.26 linear feet of papers, photographs, sound recordings, and annotated books, offprints, and periodicals, as well as 6 feet of Turner’s recording equipment. The papers consist of correspondence, writings (both by Turner and collected), family records, school records, and printed ephemera. Letters of note include a 1967 letter from William Brewer of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History in which he provides his opinions on John Hope Franklin and Martin Luther King Jr., as well as a 1967 letter from a graduate assistant at Northwestern State College in Natchitoches, Louisiana, discussing “language problems” of her Black students.

Writings include typescripts on Gullah texts and the Sea-Island dialect of South Carolina, writings on African culture, and notebooks and gathered pages with an envelope marked “original of stories and proverbs in the Yoruba.” Also present is the text of an address given by Ambassador S.O. Adeba, Permanent Representative of Nigeria to the United Nations, at Roosevelt University in April 1966 and a copy of Turner’s dissertation on “Anti-Slavery Sentiment in American Literature Prior to 1865.” Additional papers include an invitation to a series of lectures given by Turner at Roosevelt University, news clippings, a draft of a Turner’s report on his research conducted on a Fulbright Scholarship in 1951, a hand script chart listing the importation of Africans into South Carolina for 1733-1807 by region of origin, and worksheets used for the Linguistic Atlas of the United States and Canada, compiled by Hans Kurath.\

Wire recording and field  notes, circa 1950s.

Wire recording and field
notes, circa 1950s.

Photographic materials include approximately 100 black and white photographs, circa 1911-1930s, including portraits of Turner, as well as candid images of him, his wife, and unidentified individuals. Also present are a number of books, periodicals, and offprints that contain Turner’s ownership signature and annotations in his hand. Of special significance is the presence of a number of wire recordings and lacquer and metal phonograph records that contain Turner’s linquistic field recordings from the 1930s and 1950s. As soon as the sound recordings are inventoried, the Center will pursue funding to digitize and make these materials accessible.

Lorenzo Dow Turner was the subject of a 2007 biography by Margaret Wade-Lewis entitled Lorenzo Dow Turner: Father of Gullah Studies and published by the University of South Carolina Press.

Posted by Christopher Harter

(Images from the papers of Lorenzo Dow Turner Papers.  May not be reproduced without permission.)


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