Lorenzo Dow Turner was born in Elizabeth City, N.C. in 1895. 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. Turner was professor emeritus at Roosevelt until his death at age 77 in 1972. 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. He was a noted authority on Gullah, a Creole language spoken in the Sea Islands off the coast of South Carolina and Georgia.
Lorenzo Dow Turner papers, 1895-1972, Anacostia Community Museum Archives, Smithsonian Institution, gift of Lois Turner Williams