Every day this month, the Center for Black Educator Development, in partnership with Phillys7thWard.org and Citizen Ed, will highlight a Black Educator Hall of Famer. But, don’t forget, e’ry month is Black History MonthFebruary is just the Blackest.

Today, our featured Black Educator is Lorenzo Dow Turner.

Lorenzo Dow Turner was born August 21, 1890 in North Carolina. Dr. Turner came from a family committed to education. Dr. Turner earned his bachelor’s degree from Howard University in 1914, his master’s degree from Harvard in 1917 and his Ph.D. in English literature in 1926.

Dr. Turner began his career as an educator upon completion of his master’s degree in the Howard University English department where he taught from 1917 to 1928, serving as chair of the English Department from 1920 to 1928. Dr. Turner departed Howard for Fisk and led the English department there from 1929 to 1946. He would end his teaching career at Roosevelt University in Chicago, teaching from 1946 until 1970.

Dr. Turner’s accomplishments within his career in academia include the creation of the African Studies curriculum at Fisk University in 1943 and participation in the early African Studies program at Roosevelt University, beginning in 1946. In addition, Dr. Turner published his seminal work, Africanisms in the Gullah Dialectin 1949. The text was inspired by his work on uncovering the origins of Gullah language.

The Gullah Geechee people are descendants of Africans who were enslaved on the rice, indigo and Sea Island cotton plantations of the lower Atlantic coast, with a unique creole language spoken in the coastal areas of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. Turner first heard the language while teaching in South Carolina. His initial interest resulted in him becoming known as a the “Father of Gullah Studies.”

Turner’s research which began in the South Carolina and Georgia Low Country would eventually extend to Sierra Leone in Africa, and Brazil in South America (along with other areas, nationally and internationally where creole and African languages were influential).

Turner investigated the influence of African languages on the dialect spoken by Gullah speakers in their isolated communities; exposing the complexities of the African diaspora in America, and how it pertained to cultural assimilation.

He wanted to be able to provide context for the obvious Africanisms he discovered in his Sea Islands research: “Such depth and breadth allowed Turner to locate Gullah culture and language within the broader complexities of the African diaspora in the New World, … firmly outside the reductionist theoretical model of cultural assimilation.”

Dr. Turner’s arguments were so convincing, that his thesis (Gullah speakers are influenced by African languages) faced little criticism and to this day, this classic work is a symbol of Diaspora influence among African descendants in America.

Dr. Turner is solidified as a founding figure in American linguistics and African American studies.

Lorenzo Dow Turner; a member of the Black Educator Hall of Fame.

For more information on Lorenzo Dow Turner, visit the following site.


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