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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],
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Box 10Add to your cart.
Item 1: Phonograph disc (aluminum): Miss Lillian G. Patrick, Charleston, S.C.Add to your cart.
Item 2: Phonograph disc (aluminum): Mrs. Gracie Ashe, Sommerville, S.C.Add to your cart.
Item 3: Phonograph disc (aluminum): Jokes by The Gang, 1933 May 14Add to your cart.
Item 4: Phonograph disc (aluminum): Jokes, Misses Pate Burwell and WinklerAdd to your cart.
Item 5: Phonograph disc (aluminum): description unavailableAdd to your cart.
Item 6: Phonograph disc (aluminum): Record for Mrs. DrakeAdd to your cart.
Note: description unavailable.
Item 7: Phonograph disc (aluminum): The Big Broadcast by The Gang, 1933 June 4Add to your cart.
Item 8: Phonograph disc (aluminum): description unavailableAdd to your cart.
Item 9: Phonograph disc (aluminum): description unavailableAdd to your cart.
Item 10: Phonograph disc (lacquer): 26 Creole proverbs by Teddy Jones with translation by Thomas (sic) Decker (Freetown)Add to your cart.
Item 11: Phonograph disc (lacquer): ModakekeAdd to your cart.
Item 12: Phonograph disc (lacquer): 221 Creole proverbs by Thomas (sic) DeckerAdd to your cart.
Item 13: Phonograph disc (lacquer): Creole riddles by Thomas (sic) Decker (Freetown)Add to your cart.
Item 14: Phonograph disc (lacquer): A Creole Story by Mrs. Tate AllenAdd to your cart.
Item 15: Phonograph disc (lacquer): Story by N.A. Abon (Ibadan)Add to your cart.
Item 16: Phonograph disc (lacquer): Creole Story by Mrs. Tate Allen (Freetown)Add to your cart.
Item 17: Phonograph disc (lacquer): Itshekui songs and Yoruba songAdd to your cart.
Item 18: Phonograph disc (lacquer): 221 Creole Proverbs by Thomas (sic) Decker)Add to your cart.
Item 19: Phonograph disc (lacquer): 221 Creole proverbs by Thomas (sic) DeckerAdd to your cart.
Item 20: Phonograph disc (lacquer): Ijebu-Ode story by Mrs. AinaAdd to your cart.
Item 21: Phonograph disc (lacquer): Creole proverbs ty Thomas (sic) DeckerAdd to your cart.
Item 22: Phonograph disc (lacquer): Creole story by Mrs. Tate Allen (Freetown)Add to your cart.
Item 23: Phonograph disc (lacquer): 19 Creole proverbs by Thomas (sic) Decker with translation; proverbs by Davis and ColeAdd to your cart.
Item 24: Phonograph disc (lacquer): A Yoruba story by Reverend TogunAdd to your cart.
Item 25: Phonograph disc (lacquer): Medicine by Reverend TogunAdd to your cart.
Item 26: Phonograph disc (lacquer): Creole songs, storeis, and riddles by Hosanna Surra (Freetown)Add to your cart.
Item 27: Phonograph disc (lacquer): Reverend Togun, 1952 August 10Add to your cart.
Item 28: Phonograph disc (lacquer): For Lorenzo (description unavailable)Add to your cart.
Item 29: Phonograph disc (lacquer): description unavailableAdd to your cart.
Item 30: Phonograph disc (lacquer): Experimental (description unavailable)Add to your cart.
Item 31: Phonograph disc (lacquer): description unavailableAdd to your cart.
Item 32: Phonograph disc (lacquer): description unavailableAdd to your cart.
Item 33: Phonograph disc (lacquer): description unavailableAdd to your cart.
Item 34: Phonograph disc (lacquer): Creole riddles and proverbs by Thomas (sic) Decker (Freetown)Add to your cart.
Item 35: Phonograph disc (lacquer): Reverend Boddie (description unavailable)Add to your cart.
Item 36: Phonograph disc (lacquer): Onajidi's story and Miss V. Ogunkoye's StoryAdd to your cart.
Item 37: Phonograph disc (lacquer): description unavailableAdd to your cart.
Item 38: Phonograph disc (aluminum): description unavailableAdd to your cart.
Item 39: Phonograph disc (aluminum): description unavailableAdd to your cart.
Item 40: Phonograph disc (aluminum): Passage by Edward Mathus, 1972 June 10Add to your cart.
Item 41: Phonograph disc (aluminum): Tom Lernon (description unavailable)Add to your cart.
Item 42: Phonograph disc (aluminum): Senior Martinamo (Bonfun), Bahian, Brazil, 1940 October 14Add to your cart.
Item 43: Phonograph disc (aluminum): Mr. and Mrs. Morton (description unavailable)Add to your cart.
Item 44: Phonograph disc (aluminum): Conversation in Yoruba by Senior Martinamo and Senior MoronkedziAdd to your cart.
Item 45: Phonograph disc (aluminum): Saint Omonlu, The Song of The Saint by Senior Martinamo (Bonfun) Bahia, BrazilAdd to your cart.
Item 46: Phonograph disc (aluminum): Yoruba storiesAdd to your cart.
Item 47: Phonograph disc (aluminum): Senior Martinamo Elizeo (Bonfun) Bahia, Brazil, 1940 October 12Add to your cart.
Item 48: Phonograph disc (aluminum): Yoruba words used at the Candonble at Federacao, 1941 February 6Add to your cart.
Item 49: Phonograph disc (aluminum): Mrs. Anne Scott, St. Helena Island, South Carolina, 1932 June 27Add to your cart.

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