Reference Entry

Wesley, Dorothy Burnett Porter

Thomas Battle

in Black Women in America, Second Edition

Published in print January 2005 | ISBN: 9780195156775
Wesley, Dorothy Burnett Porter

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Dorothy Burnett Porter Wesley was the longtime librarian and curator of the Moorland-Spingarn Collection (now known as the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center) at Howard University. Her tenure extended from 1930 to 1973 and encompassed the explosion of black history and culture that extended from the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s through the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s. Porter Wesley assisted the many historians and other scholars who documented, researched, studied, and wrote about black history and culture, especially those associated with Howard University. These scholars included Alain LeRoy Locke, the first African American Rhodes scholar and an important contributor to the New Negro Movement, which became popularized as the Harlem Renaissance; the poet and literary scholar Sterling A. Brown; the artist and art historian James A. Porter, who was Porter Wesley's husband; the political scientist and diplomat Ralph J. Bunche; the sociologist E. Franklin Frazier; and the historians Benjamin Quarles, Rayford Logan, and John Hope Franklin.Dorothy Louise Burnett was born in Warrenton, Virginia. Her parents were Hayes Joseph and Bertha Ball Burnett and the family included her brother, Hayes Jr., and her sisters, Leonie and Alice Earnestine. Porter Wesley grew up in the racially tolerant community of Montclair, New Jersey, where her father was a physician. She completed her primary and secondary education in that community before beginning her college work in 1923 at the Miner Normal School in Washington, DC, which was later known as Miner Teachers College. She enrolled at Howard University after receiving her teaching certificate from Miner in 1926 and completed its undergraduate program in 1928. Her experiences at Miner and Howard exposed her to the racism commonly experienced by blacks in the Southern states but also to literary and cultural traditions that stimulated and nurtured her love of books and her burgeoning interest in black history and culture. Porter Wesley continued her education at Columbia University, completing its graduate program in library science in 1932 and becoming the first African American to graduate from Columbia's master's degree library school program. with her husband Dr. Charles Harris Wesley. Dorothy Wesley was the longtime librarian and curator of the Moorland-Spingarn Collection (later the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center) at Howard University. Her tenure spanned the years from the Harlem Renaissance to the Black Arts Movement. Courtesy of Dorothy Porter Wesley Research Center, Fort Lauderdale, FloridaPorter Wesley began her career at Howard in 1928 and in 1930 became librarian of the special collection of Negro materials, the Moorland Foundation, established in 1914 through the gift of Howard alumnus and trustee Dr. Jesse Edward Moorland. During her tenure, she saw the collection expand to become the Moorland-Spingarn Collection when it acquired the library of bibliophile and collector Arthur B. Spingarn in 1946. She saw it elevated to the status of the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center upon her retirement in 1973, a reflection of the vast growth and development of resources and research that occurred during her long tenure.Porter Wesley was well known among scholars for her ability to identify obscure and otherwise difficult-to-find tidbits of information, which scholars recognized as invaluable in their efforts to better document African and African American history. She created special indexes and files, developed subject headings in black materials that were not commonly used by the library profession, and broadened the use of library classification schemes to better reflect the diversity of the black experience. The materials she acquired and the collections she developed are noted for their richness in African American, African, Haitian, Cuban, and Brazilian literature; community and civic activities; and the local history of the black community in Washington, DC.Porter Wesley was also a scholar in her own right. Her numerous publications included Early Negro Writing, 1760–1837; Afro-Braziliana: A Working Bibliography; The Negro in the United States: A Selected Bibliography; and William Cooper Nell. Porter Wesley's awards included honorary doctorates from Susquehanna University (1971), Syracuse University (1989), and Radcliffe College (1990); the Trailblazer's Award from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association (1990); the Living Legacy Award of the National Caucus and Center on Black Aged (1991); the Commission's Distinguished Service Award from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (1993); and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Smithsonian Institution (1996). Porter Wesley was also designated as a Distinguished Alumna by Howard University in 1989, and President Bill Clinton presented her with the National Endowment for the Humanities Medal and the Charles Frankel Prize in 1994.Porter Wesley married James A. Porter in 1929. Their union produced one child, Constance, and lasted until Porter's death in 1970. She married the noted historian Charles Wesley in 1979 and was his devoted companion until his death in 1987.See also Librarianship.

Reference Entry.  854 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History

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