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Sat, 01.23.1904

Benjamin Quarles, Historian born

Benjamin Quarles

*Benjamin Quarles was born on this date in 1904. He was a Black historian.

From Boston, Massachusetts, the son of a subway porter, he entered college at 23, receiving his Bachelor’s degree from Shaw University in 1931, his M.A. degree from the University of Wisconsin in 1933, and his Ph.D. in 1940. Quarles taught at Shaw, served as dean at Dillard University, and has chaired the history department at Morgan State University.

The scholarly part of Quarles’ career began at a time when the research was hampered by racist assumptions nationally.  White historians openly questioned whether Blacks could write an objective history, and they believed that Black history lacked sufficient primary sources for serious research and writing.  Building on pioneering research by Carter Woodson and others, Quarles proved them wrong. With careful writing and research and his ability to present a balanced narrative, Quarles confirmed the existence of a rich documentary of African American life. His essays in the Mississippi Valley Historical Review in 1945 and 1959 were the first from a Black historian to appear in a major historical journal.

Quarles’ first scholarly article, The Breach Between Douglass and Garrison, appeared in the Journal of Negro History in 1938 and spotlighted his interest in race relations. Quarles’ studies explore how Blacks and whites help shape each other’s identity on individual and collective levels. This can be found in Lincoln and the Negro 1962 and Allies for Freedom: Blacks and John Brown 1974. Other African American contributions were documented by him in The Negro in the Civil War 1953, The Negro in the American Revolution 1961, and Black Abolitionist 1969.

Quarles shared with others scholars an optimistic appraisal of racial progress in the history of the United States. He has also brought two textbooks into America’s classrooms, The Negro in the Making of America and The Negro American: A Documentary History.  Benjamin Quarles died in 1996.



The Encyclopedia of African American Heritage
by Susan Altman
Copyright 1997, Facts on File, Inc. New York
ISBN 0-8160-3289-0

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