Related archival collection: Lorenzo Dow Turner papers, which dates from 1895 to 1972 and measures 23.97 linear feet, documents the career and travels of Professor Lorenzo Dow Turner. The collection is comprised of correspondence, academic papers, research materials, books, newspaper and journal articles, sound recordings, and photographs. Contact the Archivist for more information.
Related archival collection: Geneva Townes Turner papers, which dates from circa 1910-1976, contains the personal papers of Geneva Townes Turner and documents her family and her life with Dr. Lorenzo Dow Turner. Materials include clippings, correspondence, marriage certificates, photographs, portraits, programs and scrapbooks. Contact the Archivist for more information.
Eugene Townes is the nephew of Geneva Calcier Townes Turner, who was the first wife of Lorenzo Dow Turner.
Geneva Townes Turner was the former wife of linguist Lorenzo Dow Turner. The couple met as students at Howard University and were married in 1919. Geneva Turner accompanied her husband in the early years of his work in the Sea Islands and assisted him in making recordings. Although her contributions went without acknowledgement in later years, she was the one who served as her "husband's associate and scribe" in his first years doing Gullah research. To prepare for that role, she learned phonetics in the evenings while teaching school during the day in Washington, D.C., and attended classes in international phonetics at Brown University. After their divorce in 1938, Turner taught public school in Washington, D.C. until her retirement in 1954. She was also instrumental in establishing the Washington Conservatory of Music and School of Expression, an African American school for the arts. Turner died in 1983 at the age of 89.
Dr. Lorenzo Dow Turner, an African American linguist, 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.
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.
Geneva Townes Turner papers, circa 1910-1976. Anacostia Community Museum Archives, Smithsonian Institution.
Lorenzo Dow Turner papers, 1895–1972, Anacostia Community Museum Archives, Smithsonian Institution, gift of Lois Turner Williams.
African American families
Greek letter societies
Social life and customs
Permanent Collection, Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum