“The role of blacks in America—what they have done and what has been done to them—illuminates the past and informs the present. Unless we fully comprehend the role of racism in this society, we can never truly know America”. These poignant words are from one of Dr. Benjamin Quarles’ last essays for the journal Daedalus. Dr. Quarles was definitely a man who settled for nothing less than excellence. He dedicated his life to works that would educate the world for years to come.
His thorough research coupled with his impressive way with words blazed trails for modern day historians to follow. On January 23, 1904, Benjamin Arthur Quarles was born in Boston, Massachusetts. His father was a subway porter. Quarles, himself worked as a bellhop on Boston-based steamboats and in Florida hotels. This man, however, was destined to achieve greater goals as young Quarles proved his superior intellect upon graduation from Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina. In addition to receiving his B. A. , he was awarded the Social Science Research Council Fellowship.
This is a fellowship that is only offered to those that are expected to make a long-term impact on society through their work. Quarles went on to receive his M. A. from the University of Wisconsin in Madison in the year of 1933. His dissertation topic was the life of abolitionist Frederick Douglass. His knowledge and dedication were impressive enough to win the Rosenwald Fellowship in 1938. During the year of 1939, he was appointed Professor of History at Dillard University in New Orleans, Louisiana and then received his Ph. D. from the University of Wisconsin. In 1942, Dr.
Quarles received his second Social Science Research Council fellowship then following that he was granted the Carnegie Corporation Advancement Teaching Fellowship in 1944 before winning the Rosenwald Fellowship once again in the year of 1945. Quarles became the Secretary of the New Orleans Urban League in 1947 and held that position until 1951. Finally, in 1948 Dr. Quarles published his first work entitled Frederick Douglass which he undoubtedly used the dissertation from his graduate work as the basis. This was a book than was an in depth account of the life of Frederick Douglass.
In addition, he also joined the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History. Also in the same year, Dr. Quarles was appointed the dean of the Dillard faculty. In 1949, he became the Honorary Consultant in American History at the Library of Congress and he held this prestigious position until the year of 1951. He also served on the New Orleans Council of Social Agencies. Dr. Quarles left Dillard University as he was appointed to be the Professor of History and Chairman of the History Department at Morgan State College in Baltimore, Maryland in 1953. He also penned his second book entitled, The Negro in the Civil War.
In this work he was determined to disprove the common myth that the African Americans took a passive role in the fight against slavery. Quarles was able to effectively reveal that approximately 3. 5 million African Americans were major participants for the cause of freedom. There were approximately 180,000 soldiers and the rest worked as orderlies, spies and laborers. “Milliken’s Bend was one of the hardest fought encounters in the annals of American military history”, Quarles explained. The battle at Milliken’s Bend, according to Assistant Secretary of War Charles A.
Dana, “completely revolutionized the sentiment of the army with regard to the employment of Negro troops”. Once again, Quarles received the Social Science Research Council Fellowship, as well as serving the Urban League in the office of Vice President during the year of 1957. Dr. Quarles won the Guggenheim Fellowship in 1959 before editing the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass in 1960. In 1961, Quarles published The Negro in the American Revolution where he explored the major role of African Americans and their vast efforts in their own search for freedom.
His findings that would display the positive contributions African Americans made to this country that definitely could not be found in mainstream literary or educational works. He followed this poignant book with another entitled Lincoln and the Negro. In this book Dr. Quarles ventured into unexplored territory. Even though Lincoln is considered as the President who was in office when slavery was abolished his thoughts on the African American people were never actually explored. Quarles intent was to show Lincoln as a true friend of the enslaved because of the philosophy expressed in the Declaration of Independence.
Yet, he noted that Lincoln also believed that whites were mentally superior to blacks and he was vehemently opposed to marriages between the two races. In addition, he did not support the issue of granting blacks the right to vote. Once again, in the year of 1964 Dr. Quarles published another book entitled The Negro in the Making of America. This book explored the vast contribution African Americans have made in the development of this country. In addition to publishing a book he also served on the Advisory Committee of Library Services at the U. S.
Office of Education from 1964 to 1966. Lift Every Voice: The Lives of Booker T. Washington was a book that he co-authored with Dorothy Sterling and was published in 1965. The year of 1967 proved to be a busy one as Dr. Quarles became grantee of the American Council of Learned Societies. In addition, he became the Vice President of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. During this year, he also was inducted into Phi Alpha Theta while publishing yet another book entitled, The Negro American: A Documentary Story. He co-authored this book with Leslie H.
Fishel, Jr. In 1968, Dr. Quarles was able to publish Frederick Douglass as part of the Great Lives Observed Series, while in the year of 1969 he published Black Abolitionists and became Chairman of the State of Maryland Commission on Negro History and Culture. The year of 1970 proved to be another busy year for Dr. Quarles as he was appointed for a second term as Honorary Consultant in United States History, the Library of Congress. He was also granted the position of Honorary Chairman of the Maryland State Commission on Afro-American History and Culture.
Dr. Quarles published another book entitled Blacks on John Brown and became Vice President Emeritus of the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History. In addition, he was appointed to the editorial board of the Journal of Negro History and Maryland Historical Magazine as well as accepting the appointment to the National Council of the Frederick Douglass Museum of African Art at the Smithsonian. In 1974, Dr. Quarles published Allies for Freedom: Blacks and John Brown as well as Blacks on John Brown.
He also retired from Morgan State College and he was the Commencement speaker at Morgan while receiving the honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree. During the year of 1976 Dr. Quarles became a member of the Building Committee of the Amistad Research Center, as well as the Project Advisory Committee on Black Congress members of the Joint Center for Political Studies. In addition, he became a member of the Advisory Board on American History and the Life of the American Bibliographical Center.
Also during the year of 1976 he became a Member of the Committee of Advisors of the National Humanities Center Fellowship Committee. He served on this committee until 1978. During 1977, he served on the Department of Army Historical Advisory Committee until 1980, while in 1981 Dr. Quarles was named Professor Emeritus at Morgan State University. In 1988, Quarles published Black Mosaic: Essays in Afro-American History and Historiography, as well as receiving the American Historical Association’s Senior Historian Scholarly Distinction Award.
The last year of his life he received the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History Lifetime Achievement Award before passing away November 16, 1996. Dr. Benjamin Quarles was a man who achieved much in a time when African Americans were still in the struggle to obtain the rights of a true American. There were few sympathizers at Wisconsin for Quarles’ desires to write black history. They feared a black person studying history would turn it into propaganda, however, Quarles diligently continued his studies and eventually found a professor who consented to guide his thesis research.
Much of Quarles’ writing style was learned from Professor William Hesseltine of the University of Wisconsin. He worked with this professor while completing his doctorate. Dr. Quarles has left a legacy of works that has been such a impact on the world because it illuminates the African American culture in ways that often times cannot be found in history books. He was not only a man who received so many prestigious awards and filled impressive positions, but he was truly a great historian. Dr.
Quarles was able to pen over a dozen books that all in one way or another displayed several viewpoints. He didn’t just stop at the obvious but had the tendency to dig deeper and find the facts from different points of view. His work began with Frederick Douglass before spanning the years when African Americans fought for the freedom that many take for granted today. Quarles married Vera Bullock Quarles who died in 1951, and then Ruth Brett in 1952 who outlived her husband. They had two daughters. Dr.
Benjamin Quarles truly lived a full and productive life that definitely made a difference to the rest of us that he lived. Bibliography AA Registry, http://www. aaregistry. com/african_american_history/703/Dedicated_historian_Benjamin_Quarles, Received December 8, 2006. http://sfsu. edu/~multsowk/title/15. htm Received on December 8, 2006 http://frontlist. com/detail/0306807904 Received on December 8, 2006 https://www. listserv. umd. edu/cgi-bin/wa? A2=ind9611&L=sedit-1&F=P&P=2462 Received on December 8, 2006 Journal of African American History, http://www.
historycooperative. org/cgi-bin/justtop. cgi? act= justtop&url=http://history8operative. org/journals/jan/87. 2/br_50. htm Penn State, www. upenn. edu/almanac/v43/n13/news. html Terborg-Penn, Roselyn, Negro History Bulletin, 1997 Turner, Nathaniel, http://www. nathanielturner. com/christian reportstobenjaminquarles. htm Received on December 8, 2006 Turner, Nathaniel, http://www. nathanielturner. com/benjaminquarles. htm, Received on December 8, 2006 Turner, Nathaniel, http:/www. nathanielturner. com/benjaminquarles. htm, Received on December 8, 2006
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