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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 2Add to your cart.
Folder 1: Writings by Lorenzo Dow Turner, 1942-1958Add to your cart.
Item 1: Reprint: Turner, Lorenzo D. "Some Contacts of Brazilian Ex-Slaves with Nigeria, West Africa" Journal of Negro History 27:1 (January 1942)Add to your cart.
Item 2: Reprint: Turner, Lorenzo D. "Problems Confronting the Investigator of Gullah" Publication of the American Dialect Society 9 (November 1947)Add to your cart.
Item 3: Publication: Turner, Lorenzo D. "Problems Confronting the Investigator of Gullah" Publication of the American Dialect Society 9 (November 1947)Add to your cart.
Item 4: Reprint: Turner, Lorenzo D. "The Odyssey of a Zulu Warrior" Jounal of Negro History 40:4 (October 1955)Add to your cart.
Item 5: Reprint: Turner, Lorenzo D. "Walt Whitman and the Negro" Chicago Jewish Forum 15:1 (Fall 1956)Add to your cart.
Item 6: Reprint: Turner, Lorenzo D. "The Role of Folklore in the Life of the Yoruba of Southwestern Nigeria" Report of the Ninth Annual Round Table Meeting on Linguistics and Language Study 11 (1958)Add to your cart.
Folder 2: Collected Writings, 1918-1966Add to your cart.
Item 1: Reprint: Bell, Howard H. "The American Moral Reform Society 1836-1841" Journal of Negro Education 27 (Winter 1958)Add to your cart.
Item 2: Reprint: Farrison, William Edward. "The Phonology of the Illiterate Negro Dialect of Guilford County, North Carolina" Abstracts of Doctors' Dissertations 22 (Ohio State University Press), 1937Add to your cart.
Item 3: Reprint: Storey, Moorfield. "The Negro Question: An address delivered before the Wisconsin Bar Association" (New York: National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), 1918 June 27Add to your cart.
Item 4: Reprint: Lynch, Hollis R. "Pan-Negro Nationalism in the New World, before 1862" Boston University Papers on Africa 2 (Boston: Boston University Press), 1966Add to your cart.
Item 5: Publication:  Africa in the Modern World: An NBC Radio Discussion by Melville J. Herskovits, Edwardo Mondlane and Edwin S. Munger, 1952 January 6Add to your cart.
Item 6: Reprint: Lanning, John Tate. "The Case of Jose Ponseano de Ayarza: A Document on the Negro in Higher Education" The Hispanic American Historical Review 24:3  (August 1944)Add to your cart.
Item 7: Publication: Smith, Reed. "Gullah" Bulletin of the University of South Carolina 190 (Columbia, South Carolina: University of South Carolina), 1926 November 1Add to your cart.
Item 8: Reprint: Drake, B. St. Clair. "Recent Trends in Research on the Negro in the United States" International Social Science Bulletin (March 1958)Add to your cart.
Item 9: Reprint: Smith, Edwin W. "The Function of Folk-Tales" Journal of the Royal African Society (January 1940)Add to your cart.
Item 10: Reprint: Taylor, A.A. "Trends in Federal Policy Toward the Negro" Annual Report of the American Historical Association for 1942 3 (Washington: American Historical Association), 1944Add to your cart.
Folder 3: Collected publications, 1938-1971Add to your cart.
Item 1: Journal of Negro History 50:2 (April 1965)Add to your cart.
Item 2: Linguistic Atlas of the United States and Canada: Section 1 Linguistic Atlas of New England (Providence, Rhode Island: Brown University), 1938Add to your cart.
Item 3: Negro American Literature Forum 5:3 (Fall 1971)Add to your cart.
Item 4: The Decalogue Journal 15:3 (February-March 1965Add to your cart.
Folder 4: Fragments: notationsAdd to your cart.
Folder 5: Research report: Fulbright Program, 1951Add to your cart.
Folder 6: Passports, 1940, 1950Add to your cart.
Folder 7: International certificate for motor vehicles, driving permit, and receipts, 1951Add to your cart.
Folder 8: Address book and calling cards, undatedAdd to your cart.
Folder 9: Bank book: The First National Bank of Chicago, 1946-1952Add to your cart.
Folder 10: Roosevelt UniversityAdd to your cart.
Item 1: Invitation: "Culture Conflicts and Adjustments in West Africa" lecture by Lorenzo Dow Turner, 1952Add to your cart.
Item 2: Speech: "An African Looks at the Afro-American" / by Ambassador S.O. Adebo, Permanent Representative of Nigeria at the United Nations, 1966Add to your cart.
Folder 15: Yoruba texts (hand script)Add to your cart.
Folder 16: Yoruba texts (hand script): proverbsAdd to your cart.
Folder 17: Yoruba texts (hand script): Sermon, St. Luke's GospelAdd to your cart.
Includes Enlish translation.
Folder 18: Yoruba texts (hand script): riddlesAdd to your cart.
Folder 19: Yoruba texts (hand script): riddlesAdd to your cart.
Folder 20: Harvard Handbook, 1916-1917Add to your cart.

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