Lorenzo Dow Turner Collection consists of ninety-two objects acquired by Dr. Lorenzo Dow Turner, an African American linguist, throughout his academic career and travels during the 20th century. Dr. Turner was a pioneer in identifying the influences of African languages in English and in particular in the Gullah language, also known as the Sea Islands Creole dialect, spoken in the Sea Islands of Georgia and South Carolina.
Much of the collection documents the culture, traditions, festivities, and ceremonies of ethnic groups in the United States, West Africa, and Brazil which Dr. Turner studied. Objects include ethnic costumes and dress accessories, music instruments, a doll in folk dress, sculptures created by Yoruba craftsmen, whips, and a dagger. Textiles include a wall hanging with Egyptian images, rope, straw bag, leather pillow, spools of yarn or thread, woven shawl and small pieces of cloth. Phonograph, reel-to-reel recorder, and wire recorder, which Dr. Turner used to document sounds, music, and dialect, are also a part of the collection. Other personal items include a typewriter, stapler, desk set, cigarette case, briefcase, wooden chest, several wallets, commencement clothing from University of Chicago, several rolls of unused photographic film, and two Bibles.
A related archival collection – Lorenzo Dow Turner papers – which consists of correspondence, writings, research, photographs, and sound recordings is available in the Archives at the Anacostia Community Museum. Contact the Archivist for more information.
When Lorenzo Dow Turner was born in Elizabeth City, North Carolina in 1890, his African American family was already in its fourth generation of freedom. He earned his B.A. in 1914 from Howard University; in 1917, he received an M.A. in English from Harvard University. He received his doctorate in English from the University of Chicago in 1926 while simultaneously serving as chairman and professor of the Department of English at Howard from 1917 to 1928. He held the same positions at Fisk University in Nashville from 1929 to 1946. In 1946 he accepted a professorship in the English department at Roosevelt University in Chicago, where he remained as professor of English and lecturer in African Cultures until his retirement in 1970. Dr. Turner was professor emeritus at Roosevelt until his death at age 77 in 1972. Dr. Turner's professional and academic interests encompassed both English and linguistics. A noted scholar of African languages and linguistics, he learned numerous West African languages, mastering five of them.
In the early 1930s, Dr. Turner was exposed to Gullah language speakers in South Carolina, and he immediately notices that their language was not “bad English” as other scholars had described, but it was a Creole language, with a combination of words from other African languages and a distinctive grammar also based in African languages. In order to better understand the linguistic connections of Gullah, Dr. Turner studied African languages and Arabic, and did research among the Afro-Brazilian community of Bahia, Brazil and in West Africa. Dr. Turner spent the last 20 years or so of his life from the 1950s to the 1970s bringing knowledge of Africa to America.
Lois Turner Williams, born Lois Morton in 1918, received her master’s degree in English at Fisk University. She and Dr. Turner married in 1938. They had two sons, Lorenzo Jr. and Rani Meredith. Williams donated Dr. Turner’s collection of objects, papers, photographs, and audio recordings to the Anacostia Community Museum.
American Dialect Society, and Lorenzo Dow Turner. 1945. The secretary's report. The revised constitution. Comments on Word-lists from the South. Notes on the sounds and vocabulary of Gullah.
Amos, Alcione M. 2011. The living legacy of Lorenzo Dow Turner: the first African-American linguist. Boulder, Colo: Paradigm Pub.
Anacostia Community Museum. 2010. Word, shout, song: Lorenzo Dow Turner : connecting communities through language : August 9, 2010-March 27, 2011. Washington D.C.: Anacostia Community Museum.
Montgomery, Michael. 1994. The crucible of Carolina: essays in the development of Gullah language and culture. Athens: University of Georgia Press.
Turner, Lorenzo Dow. 1966. Anti-slavery sentiment in American literature prior to 1865. Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat Press.
Turner, Lorenzo Dow. 1969. Africanisms in the Gullah dialect. New York: Arno Press.
Wade-Lewis, Margaret. 1988. Lorenzo Dow Turner: first African-American linguist. Philadelphia: Temple University, Institute of African and African-American Affairs, Dept. of African-American Studies.
Wade-Lewis, Margaret. 2007. Lorenzo Dow Turner: father of Gullah studies. Columbia, S.C.: University of South Carolina Press.
Lorenzo Dow Turner papers, 1895–1972, Anacostia Community Museum Archives, Smithsonian Institution, gift of Lois Turner Williams.
Turner, Lorenzo Dow. 1915. Selected files on the Gullah language from the papers of Lorenzo D. Turner held by the Melville J. Herskovits Library of African Studies, Northwestern University.
African languages - Etymology
Rites and ceremonies
Sea Islands Creole dialect
Yoruba (African people)
Permanent Collection, Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum