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Lorenzo Dow Turner papers


Scope and Contents

Biographical Note

Administrative Information

Detailed Description

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Lorenzo Dow Turner papers, 1906-1989 | Amistad Research Center

By Laura J. Thomson

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Collection Overview

Title: Lorenzo Dow Turner papers, 1906-1989Add to your cart.

Predominant Dates:1932-1959

Primary Creator: Turner, Lorenzo Dow (1890-1972)

Other Creators: Turner, Lois M.

Extent: 10.26 Linear Feet

Date Acquired: 11/28/2011

Subjects: Africa, West, Africa - History, Brazil, Creole dialects, English, Creole dialects, English - Georgia, Creole dialects, English - South Carolina, Linguistics, Sea Islands Creole dialect, Yoruba language

Scope and Contents of the Materials

The Lorenzo Dow 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 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.

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 are Turner’s African field recordings document Yoruba speakers in Nigeria and Benin consisting of 50 wire recordings and 2 reel-to-reel audio recordings (1951). Additional recordings in the form of 49 phonographic lacquered and aluminum discs contain some of Turner’s recordings of the Sea Island Creoles or Gullah speakers from the coast of South Carolina (1932-1933), and Brazilian Yoruba speakers (1940-1941).

Biographical Note

Lorenzo Dow Turner, African American scholar and linguist is known as the “Father of Gullah Studies.”

Lorenzo Dow Turner (1890-1972) was born in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, on October 21, 1890, the youngest of four sons of Rooks Turner and Elizabeth Freeman. Turner earned a master's degree from Harvard and a Ph.D. in English literature from the University of Chicago. He taught at Howard University from 1917 to 1928, and during his last eight years, he served as Head of the English Department. After leaving Howard, he founded the Washington Sun newspaper, which closed after one year.

From 1929 to 1946, Turner served as Head of the English Department at Fisk University. There he designed the curriculum for the African Studies Program. In 1946, he began teaching at Roosevelt University in Chicago, where he was Chairman of the African Studies Program. In the early 1960s, he co-founded the Peace Corps training program to prepare young volunteers for service in Africa. Turner retired from Roosevelt in 1967.

Turner did seminal research on the Gullah language of the Low Country of coastal South Carolina and Georgia. His study included recordings of Gullah speakers in the 1930s and is best remembered as the father of Gullah studies. His interest in the Gullah people began in 1929 when he first heard Gullah speakers while teaching a summer class at South Carolina State College (now University). Although established scholars then viewed Gullah speech as a form of substandard English, Turner sensed that Gullah was strongly influenced by African languages. He set out to study the language. For the next 20 years, he made trips to the Gullah region in coastal South Carolina and Georgia, interviewing Gullahs and making detailed notes on their language. He also made recordings in the 1930s of Gullah speakers talking about their culture, folk stories and other aspects of life.

As part of his studies, Turner traveled to several locations in Africa, specifically Sierra Leone, to learn about the development of Creole languages, as well as to Louisiana and Brazil, to study Creole and Portuguese, respectively. He did research at University of London School of Oriental and African Studies (on various African language systems). He wanted to be able to provide context for the obvious "Africanisms" he discovered in his Sea Islands research. When Turner finally published his classic work Africanisms in the Gullah Dialect in 1949, he made an immediate impact on established academic thinking. His study of the origin, development and structure of Gullah was so convincing that scholars quickly accepted his thesis that Gullah is strongly influenced by African languages. He showed the continuity of language and culture across the diaspora. He created a new field of study by his work and an appreciation for a unique element of African-American culture.

In 1951, Turner conducted research in Africa, specifically Nigeria and Benin, as a Fulbright Scholar studying Yoruba languages and dialects, which relate to the Yoruba speakers of northern Brazil. He proved that Gullah and Afro-Brazilian Portuguese were related to the Niger-Congo languages. However, his work among the Yoruba peoples in Africa has not been studied extensively.  The anthropological and ethnographic methodologies Turner used in his work are recognized as having a broader context for the interpretation of language and culture

Turner was strongly influenced by the American linguistic movement, which he joined at its inception. Through his Gullah research, he gave shape to several academic specialties: Gullah studies, dialect geography, and creole linguistics, as well as being an important predecessor to the field of African American studies.

Turner died of heart failure at Michael Reese Hospital in Chicago, Illinois, on February 10, 1972

Subject/Index Terms

Africa, West
Africa - History
Creole dialects, English
Creole dialects, English - Georgia
Creole dialects, English - South Carolina
Sea Islands Creole dialect
Yoruba language

Administrative Information

Repository: Amistad Research Center

Access Restrictions: The Lorenzo Dow Turner Papers are open available for research use.

Use Restrictions: Copyright to these papers has not been assigned to the Amistad Research Center. It is the responsibility of an author to secure permission for publication from the holder of the copyright to any material contained in this collection.

Technical Access Note: The wire recordings and phonographic discs within the Turner papers are currently unavailable for use. Please contact the Reference Services Department for more information at (504) 862-3222.

Acquisition Source: Willie Lee Hart

Acquisition Method: Gift

Preferred Citation: Lorenzo Dow Turner Papers, Amistad Research Center, New Orleans, Louisiana.

Box and Folder Listing

Browse by Box:

[Box 1],
[Box 2],
[Box 3],
[Box 4],
[Box 5: Oversize],
[Box 6],
[Box 7],
[Box 8],
[Box 9],
[Box 10],

Box 1Add to your cart.
Folder 1: Biographical information, 1911, undatedAdd to your cart.
Folder 2: Correspondence, 1906-1967Add to your cart.
Folder 3: Photograph: portrait of Lorenzo Dow Turner by A.P. Bedou, 1935?Add to your cart.
Folder 4: Photo postcards, circa 1900s-1910sAdd to your cart.
Includes 10 photo postcards, possibly of Turner family members and/or school associates; one is labeled "Kappa Sigma" likely placing it at Howard University.
Folder 5: Photographs: Lorenzo Dow Turner family?, circa 1943-1950, undatedAdd to your cart.
Three sets of undated photographs likely depicting one or both of Turner's sons, Lorenzo Jr. and Rani. Also included is a photograph possibly of Lorenzo Dow and Lois Turner.
Folder 6: Photographs: Lorenzo Dow Turner, Geneva Turner (?),  and group of children, undatedAdd to your cart.
Set of seven photographs showing Lorenzo Dow Turner and possibly Geneva Turner with a group of children.
Folder 7-8: Photographs: Lorenzo Dow Turner and others, possibly in United Kingdom, circa 1936-1937?Add to your cart.
Folder 9: Photograph: Cabinet card of young girl and boy, undatedAdd to your cart.
Labeled "...and Herman (Aunt Edna's son)"; possibly of Lois Morton's cousin.
Folder 10: Photograph: Lorenzo Dow Turner and unidentified man, undatedAdd to your cart.
Photograph of Turner, likely during his college days.
Folder 11: Photographs: Lorenzo Dow Turner and unidentified woman and girl, undatedAdd to your cart.
Set of eleven photographs of Turner and unidentified woman and girl with stone wall and tree in background.
Folder 12: Photographs: unidentified group/family, undatedAdd to your cart.
Set of eight photographs of unidentified African American group/family.
Folder 13: Photographs: unidentified girl, undatedAdd to your cart.
Set of three photographs of unidentified girl in dress.
Folder 14: Photographs: unidentified women, undatedAdd to your cart.
Set of two photographs of two different women in similar poses on a rooftop.
Folder 15: Photographs: Framed portraits of unidentified men, undatedAdd to your cart.
Four photographs; one labeled "Douglas Logan"; another labeled "Daddy"; two unidentified.
Folder 16: Photographs: unidentified individuals and groups, 1911, undatedAdd to your cart.
Folder 17: Photographs: negatives, undatedAdd to your cart.
Negatives of unidentified individuals
Folder 18: Photographs: slides, undatedAdd to your cart.
Slide of women preparing food; slide of men in factory setting
Folder 19: Writings by Lorenzo Dow Turner, undatedAdd to your cart.
Item 1: Typescript: The Impact of Western Education on the African's Way of Life (condensed version of the first 18 pages of the original), undatedAdd to your cart.
Item 2: Typescript draft: African Survivals in the New World (The United States and the British West Indies), undatedAdd to your cart.
Item 3: Typescript outline: African Culture and Its Impact on America, undatedAdd to your cart.
Folder 20: Typescript: Gullah Texts, undatedAdd to your cart.
Includes numbers, songs, and stories.
Folder 21: Typescript: Sea-Island Dialect of South Carolina, undatedAdd to your cart.
2 copies
Folder 22: Typescript: Anti-Slavery Sentiment in American Literature prior to 1865 by Lorenzo Dow Turner, Dissertation, 1926Add to your cart.
Folder 23: Typescript: Work-Sheets for the Linguistic Atlas of the U.S.A. and Canada (American Council of Learned Societies), 1931Add to your cart.

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[Box 1],
[Box 2],
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[Box 9],
[Box 10],

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