The Lorenzo Dow Turner Papers, spanning the years 1915-1973, comprise in excess of twenty-six cubic feet of material. The Papers are arranged in nine subseries: biographical material, correspondence, notes from Turner's student career, research files, index cards (3 x 5), publications, and sound recordings. The Papers document Turner's extensive educational training, his long teaching career first at Fisk University and then at Roosevelt University, his exhaustive linguistic research, and the revolutionary theories on black speech development in America that he pioneered. Of special interest are cassette tapes including copies of the original sound recordings made by Turner.
The nearly seven hundred audio discs and over one hundred twenty-five tape and wire recordings originally included in the Lorenzo Dow Turner papers were deposited in the Archives of Traditional Music at Indiana University, Bloomington in 1986. Many of the recordings are accompanied by a more detailed inventory than is provided with this finding aid. The vast majority of the sound recordings were made by Turner in the course of his research into the origins and development of the dialect known as Gullah that is spoken by the black population of the Georgia Sea Island. It was Turner's discovery that this dialect was not the result of the original slaves' attempt to understand and speak English but rather an evolutionary combination of various African languages. Cassette tape copies of the original recordings are stored with the rest of the papers at the Melville J. Herskovits Library of African Studies.
The biographical material fills approximately one and one-half boxes and includes diaries, clippings, program and lecture announcements, and several photographs. Turner compiled a fairly complete record of announcements of his public appearances, participation in professional meetings and non-professional community activities. In addition to the material in the first two boxes of the series, the flat storage container and the oversize folders contain clippings, certificates and other related materials, including copies of a newspaper for the black community that Turner edited in Baltimore in the 1920s.
The correspondence comprises seven and one-half boxes and spans the period 1923-1973. The bulk of the correspondence is professional and routine in nature. However, Turner used his correspondence to elaborate and defend his theories of black speech development in America. The correspondence also documents the career of a black academic from the 1920s to the 1960s. Turner took some pains to retain material highlighting his achievements as a professor and department chairman at Fisk and Roosevelt. The correspondence is arranged chronologically.
The student files cover Turner's undergraduate career at Howard University and various graduate and post-graduate studies at Harvard, the University of Chicago, and various European universities. Turner's teaching files and the student papers and reports document his career as a professor of English and a specialist in linguistics. The files pertain chiefly to his two principle appointments at Fisk University and Roosevelt University. Some of the files refer to specific courses but much of the material is general information, topically arranged, from which Turner could develop his lectures. Of some interest are the files pertaining to Turner's involvement in the development of early Peace Corps programs in Africa. He also served as the Peace Corps faculty coordinator at Roosevelt. Also included are materials concerning various visiting professorships held by Turner. Two boxes of student papers are arranged chronologically and three boxes are arranged alphabetically by author. Both undergraduate and graduate papers are included. The remaining twenty-six boxes and the bulk of the audio recordings pertain to Turner's research and publications.
The Papers reflect Turner's intense and comprehensive exploration of the culture and languages of several African tribes; including the Krio, Twi, and Yoruba. In addition, he studied the evolution of blacks taken to South America and placed in a culture considerably different from that of North America. The Papers also include the bulk of Turner's research on Gullah. This includes extensive field interviewing. In addition, the Papers document Turner's wide-ranging comparative analysis between the physical patterns of speech of the Sea Island residents and those of their African antecedents. The research files, publication, index cards and audio recordings should be consulted as a body.