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Darwin T. Turner Papers

Identifier: RG99.0340

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Scope and Contents

These papers describe the work of Dr. Darwin T. Turner, including the national organizations he served with, his presentations, and his collections of writings by African American authors. These papers document his development of the Africn American World Studies Program, wthin the English Department at the University of Iowa. From 2000 to 2004, African American Studies held the status of department. In 2005, the number of faculty dipped below five, which resulted in program status within the Department of English, with the degrees offered unchanged. Today, the program is taught by faculty from a number of departments for broad understanding, as explained in the 2014-2015 general catalog. Turner directed summer institutes at Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, and at Cazenovia College in New York. At the University of Iowa, Turner directed institutes from 1973 to 1978, succeeding those directed by Charles T. Davis in 1971 and 1972. At the University of Iowa, the institutes were first proposed by Robert A. Corrigan, assistant professor in American Civilization, who directed the first two institutes in 1969 and 1970. These were held for the benefit of scholarly research projects and additional training for college instructors of Afro-American history and culture. The institutes were funded through NEH grants. The presentations were filmed, and transcriptions are preserved in this collection. Selected presentations from the 1973 and 1978 institutes were published in The Black Scholar, Volume 18: No. 1 (January/February 1987). The Turner papers are organized into ten series, each in alphabetical or chronological order. Materials pertaining to Turner's education make up Series I. His administrative work at North Carolina A & T and at the Universiy of Iowa may be found in Series II. The history of the UI program, as well as the courses, instructors and related campus events are also found in Series II. Documentation about the Afro-American Studies Institutes comprises Series III. Turner's writings make up Series IV and include his manuscripts, introductions, course lectures and speeches. Correspondence may be found in Series V. Turner referred to his many projects as commitments, and correspondence about these are found in Series VI. Series VII is an A-Z arrangement created by Dr. Turner. A subset of folders in this series are devoted to his work on the Board of Editors at American Literature, a publication of the Modern Language Association, from November 1975 through May 1979. Series VIII documents the many organizations Turner was involved with. These include the National Council of Teachers of English, College Language Association, Conference on College Composition and Communication, College English Association, Graduate Record Examination Board, National Humanities Center, and the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History. His extensive work in the humanities is documented in Seies IX. The writings of other authors, as well as clippings and notes, make up Series X, resources for research.


  • Creation: 1946 - 1991


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright restrictions may apply; please consult Special Collections staff for further information.

Biographical or Historical Information

Darwin T. Turner was an authority on African American literature and was a leader in gathering African American writings and bibliographies, while shining a spotlight on African American culture.

According to a Des Moines Register announcement of Turner's death on February 11, 1991, he grew up in a family that stressed the importance of education. His mother, Laura (Knight) Turner, was a fiction writer and sixth grade school teacher who held two bachelor's and two master's degrees; his father, Darwin Romanes Turner, was a pharmacist; Turner's maternal grandmother, Laura Troy Knight, was a school principal; his grandfather, Charles Henry Turner, a distinguished biologist, was the first African American to earn a Ph.D. from the University of Cincinnati; and his great-great grandfather, Owen Nichols, was one of the first African American instructors in Cincinnati, Ohio, as well as the first African American to establish a successful private school for Black students in Cincinnati.

Darwin Theodore Troy Turner was born on May 7, 1931, in Cincinnati, Ohio. From childhood, he enjoyed reading science fiction, mystery and comic books, and was an avid sports fan. He was enrolled at the University of Cincinnati at age 13 and earned his bachelor's degree in three years (1947). He was admitted to the Phi Beta Kappa honor society at the age of 15, as reported in The Key Reporter (Winter 1985-1986). In 1949 he took his master's degree in English, also at the University of Cincinnati. He received his doctorate in English Dramatic Literature from the University of Chicago in 1956.

At the young age of 18, Turner began his teaching career at Clark College in Atlanta, Georgia. Turner's faculty vertical file notes other teaching positions he held at Morgan State College (1952-1957) and Florida A & M University as head of the English department (1957-1959). Turner served as head of the English department and dean of the Graduate School at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical (A & T) State University (1959-1970). Turner was a prolific writer. He was author and editor of over 20 books and published numerous scholarly articles and books of poetry.

At the University of Iowa, Turner was a visiting professor in the English department in 1971. One year later, he was on faculty. The Afro-American Studies program at Iowa was developed by Robert A. Corrigan, assistant professor in American Civilization, under the presidency of Willard Boyd. Corrigan was secretary of the UI Committee on Afro-American Affairs in 1968 when he developed the program, a task presented to him by the University Faculty Senate in June of that year (see correspondence from Philip G. Hubbard in the Robert A. Corrigan faculty vertical file). In 1969, Corrigan held the first Afro-American institute at the University of Iowa, within the American Civilization department. The institutes were designed to educate the instructors in this field, who came to Iowa from across the nation. At Iowa and across the nation, institutes were funded through grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). According to Robert A. Corrigan, the impetus for this surge in interest in Afro-American history and culture was a result of the civil rights struggles during the 1960s.

Charles Twitchell Davis was the first head of the Afro-American Studies Program at Iowa in 1970. Davis left the program in 1972 for a similar program at Yale University and was succeeded by Turner on July 1 that year as the second head while serving concurrently as professor of English. The program was renamed African-American World Studies in 1986 and today it is the African American Studies Department. Courses Turner developed at Iowa include Afro-American poetry, fiction, drama, and bibliography, as well as the curriculum for the master's degree in Afro-American Studies (established in fall 1978) and some Ph.D. courses in American Studies.

With his interest in theatre, Turner promoted Black Action Theatre which was established at Iowa in 1968 to produce plays having cultural significance to African Americans. Today, this unit of the University of Iowa Theatre Arts is named the Darwin Turner Action Theatre.

In 1984 Turner was named Distinguished Professor of English by the University of Iowa Foundation. During his career, Turner served as editor for numerous authors. Of his many writing projects, it was reported that he was last working on a collection of his own writings, Black Drama in America, which was published posthumously in 1994.

Turner was married to Edna Bonner from June 1949 to August 1961. Turner married Maggie Jean Lewis on February 29, 1968. Their family includes three children, Pamela, Darwin Keith, and Rachon.


90.00 Linear Feet

Language of Materials



These papers describe the work of Dr. Darwin T. Turner and his collections of writings by African American authors. These papers document his development of the African American World Studies Program, within the English Department at the University of Iowa.

Method of Acquisition

This collection was donated to Special Collections by David and Marian Coleman in October 2014.

Related Materials

Records of the African American Studies Department (RG06.0004.001)

Denise Anderson
February 2021
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the University of Iowa Archives Repository

100 Main Library
University of Iowa Libraries
Iowa City IA 52242