Dorothy B. Porter

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Dorothy B. Porter
Born Dorothy Burnett
(1905-05-25)May 25, 1905
Warrenton, Virginia
Died December 17, 1995(1995-12-17) (aged 90)
Broward County, Florida
Nationality American
Other names Dorothy Louise Porter Wesley
Ethnicity African-American
Alma mater Howard University, 1928; Columbia University, B.S. 1931, M.S. in 1932 in library science
Occupation Librarian
Employer Moorland-Spingarn Research Center,
Howard University
Known for First African American to graduate from Columbia's library school; built Moorland-Spingarn Research Center into a world-class collection
Spouse(s) James A. Porter (1929-1970)
Charles H. Wesley (1979-1979)
Children 1

Dorothy Louise Porter Wesley (May 25, 1905 – December 17, 1995) was an African-American librarian, bibliographer and curator, who built the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center at Howard University into a world-class research collection.[1]

Early life[edit]

Porter was born in Warrenton, Virginia, the first of four children of Dr. and Mrs. Hayes J. Burnett.

Porter received her early education in Montclair, New Jersey. After graduating from high school, she enrolled in Minor Normal School in Washington, D.C., in 1923. In 1926, she transferred to Howard University and began work as a student assistant in the Founders Library. She graduated from Howard in 1928 with an A.B. and went on to continue her education to become a librarian. After working at the Howard University Library as a cataloger, Porter enrolled in the Columbia University School of Library Science and in 1931 received a B.L.S. She received a scholarship to attend graduate school at Columbia from the Julius Rosenwald Fund and was awarded an M.L.S. in 1932, becoming the first African-American woman to do so.

Porter received a B.A. from Howard University in 1928. She studied at Columbia University, earning B.S. in 1931 and M.S. in 1932 in library science. She was the first African American to graduate from Columbia's library school.[2]


Porter, librarian, bibliographer, scholar, historian and archivist, was for 43 years (1930-1973) the curator of the Moorland-Spingarn Collection at Howard University in Washington, D.C. Under her guidance a small special collection grew into a world-renowned research library. Today the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center is considered by many to be one of the world's most comprehensive repositories of information on the history and culture of people of African descent.

Porter's ambition during her life time was to "collect, codify Afro-American material and avail the collection to the public. Her motivation was partially due to her statement, 'I recall that not many years ago the African was said to lack all sense of history because African history was not available in the form of written language.'"


  • 1994 Charles Frankel Prize in the Humanities - given to "Americans who have brought the humanities to a wide public audience"[3]

Personal life[edit]

Porter's first husband was the historian and artist James A. Porter, author of Modern Negro Art.[4] They had a daughter, Constance "Coni" Uzelac (who was married to Milan Uzelac), and served as Executive Director of the Dorothy Porter Wesley Library, and "spearheaded the project to create the African American Research Library & Cultural Center in Fort Lauderdale where she generously donated a portion of her family's collection."[5]

Porter's second husband was Charles Wesley, an American historian and educator.[6]

On her surnames: "Over the years, [she] was also known by the surname Porter and the double surname Porter Wesley."[6] But the name she published under was always Porter.[6]

She died in Broward County, Florida[7]

Selected publications[edit]

Dorothy Porter published numerous bibliographies and one anthology.[8]

  • Wesley, Dorothy Porter. Afro-American Writings Published Before 1835: With an Alphabetical List (Tentative) of Imprints Written by American Negroes, 1760-1835. [New York]: Columbia University, 1932. Thesis (M. Sc.)--Columbia University, New York, 1932. OCLC 12747472
  • Porter, Dorothy B. "A Library on the Negro." The American Scholar. Vol. 7, No. 1: pp. 115-117. 1938. ISSN 0003-0937 OCLC 5543366780
  • Porter, Dorothy B. "A Library on the Negro." The Journal of Negro Education. Vol. 10, No. 2: pp. 264-266. April 1941. ISSN 0022-2984 OCLC 5545408903
  • Forten, James, John T. Hilton, and William Wells Brown. "Early Manuscript Letters Written by Negroes." The Journal of Negro History. Vol. 24, No. 2: pp. 199-210. 1939. ISSN 0022-2992 OCLC 5545495349
  • Wesley, Dorothy Porter, and Arthur Alfonso Schomburg. North American Negro Poets, A Bibliographical Checklist of Their Writings, 1760-1944. Hattiesburg, Miss: Book farm, 1945. OCLC 382999
  • Moorland Foundation, and Dorothy Porter Wesley. A Catalogue of the African Collection in the Moorland Foundation, Howard University Library. Washington: Howard University Press, 1958. OCLC 577265
  • Porter, Dorothy B. The Negro in the United States; A Selected Bibliography. Compiled by Dorothy B. Porter. Washington, Library of Congress, 1970. Available at Project Gutenberg, 2011. OCLC 746985433
  • Wesley, Dorothy Porter. Early Negro Writing, 1760-1837. Boston: Beacon Press, 1971. ISBN 978-0-807-05452-9 OCLC 251341
    • An anthology rare documents of Negro history, including addresses, narratives, poems, essays and documents from fraternal and mutual aid organizations and educational improvement societies.
  • Porter, Dorothy B. "Bibliography and Research in Afro-American Scholarship." Journal of Academic Librarianship. Vol. 2, No. 2: pp. 77-81. 1976. OCLC 424794640
  • Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, and Dorothy Porter Wesley. Recent Notable Books: A Selected Bibliography in Honor of Dorothy Burnett Porter. [Washington]: Howard University, Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, 1974. OCLC 1818615
  • Newman, Richard. Black Access: A Bibliography of Afro-American Bibliographies. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 1984. ISBN 978-0-313-23282-4 OCLC 9557811


  1. ^ Pace, Eric (20 December 1995). "Dorothy Porter Wesley, 91, Black-History Archivist". The New York Times. Retrieved 3 April 2015. 
  2. ^ Madison, Avril Johnson; Porter Wesley, Dorothy (1995). "Dorothy Burnett Porter Wesley: Enterprising Steward of Black Culture". The Public Historian 17 (1): 15–40. ISSN 0272-3433. OCLC 5546608560. 
  3. ^ "17 Are Honored In Arts Fields". The New York Times. 14 October 1994. Retrieved 3 April 2015. 
  4. ^ "Dorothy B Porter - United States Public Records". FamilySearch. Retrieved 3 April 2015. 
  5. ^ "Coni Uzelac - Obituary". Sun-Sentinel. 2 May 2012. Retrieved 3 April 2015. 
  6. ^ a b c "Charles Wesley is Dead at 95; A Pioneer in Study of Blacks". The New York Times. 2 September 1987. Retrieved 3 April 2015. 
  7. ^ "Dorothy Louise Porter-Wesley - Florida, Death Index". FamilySearch. Retrieved 3 April 2015. 
  8. ^ Ferguson, SallyAnn H. (1997). Andrews, William L.; Smith Foster, Frances; Harris, Trudier, eds. "Porter, Dorothy". Oxford Companion to African American Literature (New York/Oxford: Oxford University Press): 596–597. ISBN 978-0-195-13883-2. OCLC 49346948. Retrieved 3 April 2015. 

Further reading[edit]

chronological by publication date

Archival collections[edit]

  • Wesley, Dorothy Porter. Dorothy Porter Wesley Papers. James Weldon Johnson Collection in the Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. New Haven, CT: Yale University, March 2013. OCLC 795334837
  • Porter Uzelac, Constance. Dorothy Porter Wesley Collection, The African-American Research Library and Cultural Center Special Collection, Broward County Library.

External links[edit]