Benjamin Quarles – A Quiet Trailblazer
Quarles helped establish an interest in African American history with his 1948 biography of Frederick Douglass and continued working on nineteenth-century themes, including studies of black participation in Revolutionary and Civil Wars.
Shaw and Dillard University in New Orleans were his two primary teaching positions until 1953 when he transferred to Morgan State College (now university) in Baltimore, Maryland as full professor and dean.
Early Life and Education
Quarles was an unsung hero. As one of the first historians to take notice of unheralded black soldiers’ contributions in both wars; uneducated slaves who picked cotton which fed America; and brave abolitionists who resented white reformers’ attempts at uplift them randomly, Quarles set an important precedent.
Hesseltine employed meticulous scholarship in his book Lincoln and the Negro to demonstrate how Lincoln carefully considered these issues. His influence could also be seen in Frederick Douglass, which resulted from his doctoral research and is still considered an authoritative source.
Ben Quarles was one of the first African-American historians to publish essays in major historical journals like Mississippi Valley History Review. To honor his efforts, Morgan State University dedicated the Benjamin Quarles African-American Studies Room as part of their library as a tribute.
Quarles was one of America’s preeminent historians of African-American history and wrote 12 books that chronicled his expertise on this topic. His ability to articulate how black contributions shaped America’s social and economic fabric earned him widespread acclaim beyond academia.
Shaw University and Dillard University were his alma maters before he relocated to Morgan State College (now University) in Baltimore, Maryland where he rose through the ranks to become head of its history department and an esteemed teacher, reaching near-legendary status among two generations of African American scholars.
Frederick Douglass was written as part of his doctoral research and remains an authoritative account of this abolitionist leader. Additionally, he published numerous scholarly works about black participation in both the American Revolution and Civil War that remain staple texts for many history courses.
Achievement and Honors
Quarles was among the first African-American writers to publish in major national historical journals, publishing ten books, 23 articles and hundreds of shorter pieces on various subjects. He was one of the founders of the American Association of Black Historians and served as its president.
He dedicated much of his life to exploring the contributions made by black Americans to America, with particular attention paid to figures such as Frederick Douglass and black abolitionists who had gone unnoticed before now.
Lincoln and the Negro is an outstanding examination of Abraham Lincoln’s evolving thoughts regarding black Americans’ place in democratic societies. To this day, it remains unsurpassed as an unsurpassed work. Additionally, she has taught and written extensively while coaching USC athletes to ten IAAF World Championship top-25 team finishes.
At a time when black scholars were often denied teaching and research positions, Quarles was hired by Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina and quickly rose to become one of its most acclaimed professors.
Quarles was known for his incredible integrity; he insisted that black history studies be grounded on verifiable evidence, making sure in the preface of The Negro in the American Revolution not to repeat fictional accounts about African-American heroes.
His next book, Lincoln and the Negro, resulted from his doctoral research on Frederick Douglass and challenged the traditional notion that freed slaves merely play an inertia-inducing role in fighting democracy. Black Abolitionists was published posthumously.
Quarles was an author and prolific researcher. His primary area of research was black American history and he was one of the first African-American historians to publish in what later became the Mississippi Valley Historical Review.
Quarle left an undying legacy by drawing attention to the contributions of unsung black soldiers of both World Wars, uneducated slaves who picked cotton and refined sugar for life-enrichment and courageous abolitionists who risked all to steer America in new directions.
His 1948 book Frederick Douglass – which resulted from his doctoral dissertation at Shaw University – remains an authoritative source for much that is known about this great leader, while 1969’s Black Abolitionists caused a major reevaluation of antislavery activism.