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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

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Box 9Add to your cart.
Item 36: Wire recording: Yoruba stories, songs, and riddlesAdd to your cart.
Notations: Yoruba stories, songs, and riddles, Mr. Oniseogun Apata and Ado Ekita. Yoruba story, Joseph Akinyemi, Ijero, Ibadan. Yoruba story, Ogbomosho. History of Ijebu Ode, Chief Olowa Yinuse Olufeko. Facts about Shoganile. Mr. Daniel Ogunlesi (Shagamu, Ijebu Remo). Riddles and songs, Mr. Daniel Shomoin-Imale (Shagmu, Ijebo Remo). Remo songs, Mr. Ogunlesi. Ijebu-Atan songs. Riddles, Eribaneye Atan Elugu.
Item 37: Wire recording: description unavailableAdd to your cart.
Item 38: Wire recordings: description unavailableAdd to your cart.
Item 39: Wire recording: Yoruba stories, proverbs, and songAdd to your cart.
Notations: Yoruba proverbs and riddles, Dawodu. A Yoruba story, Mrs. D.O. Aina and Singers, Ijebu-Remo. A Yoruba story and song., S.A.B. Ogunnuga and singers, Ibadan. A Yoruba story, Miss Victoria Ogunkoye and singers, Ijebu Ode. Proverbs, Henry Ogunwole, Ibandan. A Yoruba story, Titus Olu Odedina and singers, Ibadan.
Item 40: Wire recording: Yoruba songsAdd to your cart.
Notations: Yoruba story (Ijebu-Ode) and songs (Ijebu, Mrs. E.F. Ogumyale. Yoruba stories (Ibahan-Ijebu-Ode) Miss. C.G. Obisanya, Miss L.A. Obisanya, Miss J.M. Oshibogun.
Item 41: Wire recording: Yoruba stories, songs and proverbs, 1951Add to your cart.
Notations: Yoruba proverbs, A. Ade Oshunniyi, Ibandan. Yoruba stories, Ado Ekiti, James Olofin, Joseph Egunjabi, Victor Ajayi. Yorba stories and song, Ilorin, Buraime Adisa, Durosinoluwa Ajodi Oyebanji Akanbi. A muslim sermon in Arabic with translations (Ilorin). Conversation (Ilorin). Yoruba songs (Ibadan), S.A.B. Ogunnuga. Yoruba proverbs, Ondo Ibadan, Miss Odedina.
Item 42: Wire recording: Yoruba stories, songs, and riddles, 1951Add to your cart.
Notations: Yoruba riddles, Awolore Dirisu. Conversation in Ife dialect, Mr. Awolore. Story of lif in Egbe in Yagba dialect, Yagba story (Egbe), Daniel Babalola. Story of Reverend Titiko at Egbe, J. Obiola. Conversation in Yagba, O. Ayiemorp, John Olu. Ijebu-Atan songs, Eribaneye atan Elugu.
Item 43: Wire recording: Yoruba stories, songs, and proverbs, 1951Add to your cart.
Notations: Yoruba work songs and proverbs (Ibadan), N.S. Abon. Yoruba philosophy of the world, Joseph Lanlokun. A Yoruba story and son, Reverend D.O. Adekunie.
Item 44: Wire recording: Yoruba stories and songs, 1951Add to your cart.
Notations: David Akintola Dada, Aipate Baptist Day School, Iwo, Nigeria. Story (Iwo), Mrs. Atole. Ogun song (Iwo), Mrs. Atole and son. Ifa song (Iwo), Mrs. Atole and son. Egbe song (Iwo), Mrs. Atole and son. Story (Fiditi), M.A. Akinleye. Story, Reverend J.F. Oshoniyi.
Item 45: Wire recording: Yoruba stories, 1951Add to your cart.
Notations: (Ondo) Mr. D.A. Akinkugbe. How a marriage is arranged for in Ondo, Chief Baikin Equnjobi and Mrs. Comfort (sic) Olabuikuro (sic). Conversation in Akure dialect, Daniel Akinlolu and Smuel Okoro. Stories and 5 riddles in Oshogbo dialect, Lasisi Salmai (Oshogbo). Conversation in Ifon dialect, Daniel Ayileka, Aduro Joro Ogunniyi, Joseph Ekun. 2 Stories in Ifon dialect, Aduro Joro Ogunniyi.
Item 46: Wire recording: Yoruba stories and proverbs, 1951Add to your cart.
Notations: Yoruba stories and riddles (Dawodu). Yoruba stories (Ladapo). Yoruba stories (Adekunle). Yoruba proverbs (Dawodu). Yoruba proverbs (Ogunniga).
Item 47: Wire recording: Yoruba stories, 1951Add to your cart.
Notations: Yoruba stories, Mr. Adekule. Yoruba storeis, Rev. Ladapo. Yoruba stories and proverbs (Dawodu). Yoruba stories, S.O. Onayide.
Item 48: Wire recording: Yourba stories and proverbs, 1951Add to your cart.
Notations: 2 Yoruba songs, Miss Florence O. Wilson (Ijebu-Ode). A few facts about Ilorin, Buraimo Adisa. Yoruba storeis and riddles, Buraino Adisa (Ilorin). Yoruba stories and proverbs, Jas Olofin (Ado-Ekiti). Yoruba stories and proverbs, S.A.B. Ogunmga (Ibadan).
Item 49: Wire recording: History of Saygo, Ogun, and Ilesha, 1951Add to your cart.
Notations: History of Saygo (Oyo). History of Ogun (Oyo). History of Ilesha (Owa). Early days in Ado-Ekiti.
Item 50: Wire recording: Yoruba songs, 1951Add to your cart.
Notations: Ijau songs (Lagos). Efik songs.
Item 51: Audio reel-to-reel recording: description unavailableAdd to your cart.
Item 52: Audio reel-to-reel recording: description unavailableAdd to your cart.

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