Dorothy B. Porter

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Dorothy B. Porter
Dorothy B. Porter, librarian and curator at Moorland-Spingarn Research Center at Howard University
Dorothy B. Porter, librarian and curator at Moorland-Spingarn Research Center at Howard University
Dorothy Burnett

(1905-05-25)May 25, 1905
Warrenton, Virginia, US {New Jersey}
DiedDecember 17, 1995(1995-12-17) (aged 90)
Other namesDorothy Louise Porter Wesley
Alma materHoward University, 1928; Columbia University, B.S. 1931, M.S. in 1932 in library science
EmployerMoorland-Spingarn Research Center,
Howard University
Known forFirst African American to graduate from Columbia's library school; built Moorland-Spingarn Research Center into a world-class collection
Spouse(s)James A. Porter
Charles H. Wesley

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] She published numerous bibliographies on African-American history.

Early life and education[edit]

She was born Dorothy Louise Burnett in 1905 in Warrenton, Virginia, the first of four children of Dr and Mrs Hayes J. Burnett. They encouraged their children to become educated and to serve their race.

Porter received a B.A. in 1928 from Howard University, a historically black college. In 1929 she married, while completing post-graduate work. 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]


By her married name of Porter, she was appointed in 1930 as the librarian at Howard University. Over the next 40 years, she was key to building up what is now the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center at the university as one of the world's best collection of library materials for Black/Africana history and culture.[3]

Because of her limited budget, she appealed directly to publishers and book dealers to donate specific books to the library. She developed a worldwide network of contacts that reached from the US to Brazil, Mexico and Europe. Her friends and contacts included Alain Locke, Rayford Logan, Dorothy Peterson, Langston Hughes, and Amy Spingarn. The collection is international, with books and documents in many languages. It includes music and academic studies on linguistics, as well as literature and scholarship by and about Black people in the United States and elsewhere.[3]

In addition, she was instrumental in ensuring scholars, such as Edison Carneiro, and statesmen, such as Kwame Nkrumah and Eric Williams, visited the university to increase students' interest in their African heritage.

Burnett developed a new cataloging system for the growing collection, as well as expertise to assess the materials. Earlier librarians, notably Lula V. Allen, Edith Brown, Lula E. Connor and Rosa C. Hershaw, had started to develop a system suitable for the library's materials. Porter built on this to highlight genre and authors rather than to use the conventional Dewey Decimal Classification, which lacked appropriate class-marks.[4][5]

When Arthur Spingarn agreed to sell his private collection to Howard University, the university's treasurer required an external appraisal of its value, stating that Porter's estimate would be over the value of the collection. Although Porter requested someone from the Library of Congress to do this, they acknowledged that they lacked expertise in the subject area. They asked her to write the report, which they certified and signed. This report was accepted by the university treasurer.[3] This estimate set the standard for appraising collections of black literature.


  • 1994 Charles Frankel Prize in the Humanities - given to "Americans who have brought the humanities to a wide public audience"[6]
  • The Conover-Porter Award to recognize outstanding achievement in Africana bibliography and reference tools was installed in 1980 by the Africana Librarians Council of the African Studies Association. The award was established in honor of two pioneers in African Studies bibliography, Helen F. Conover, of the Library of Congress, and Dorothy B. Porter.

Personal life[edit]

In 1929 Burnett married James A. Porter, an historian and artist. He was the author of Modern Negro Art.[7] They had a daughter together, Constance, known as "Coni". She married Milan Uzelac, and initially worked with her mother. She served as Executive Director of the Dorothy Porter Wesley Library. She later helped create the African American Research Library & Cultural Center in Fort Lauderdale.[8]

James Porter died on February 28, 1970.[9] Several years later, in 1979, Burnett Porter married Charles Wesley, an American historian and educator who pioneered important studies in black history. He died in 1987.[10]

Porter died in Broward County, Florida.[11]

Selected publications[edit]

Dorothy Porter published numerous bibliographies and one anthology.[12]

  • 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
  • Nell, William Cooper; Wesley, Dorothy Porter; Uzelac, Constance Porter (2002). William Cooper Nell, Nineteenth-Century African American Abolitionist, Historian, Integrationist: Selected Writings from 1832–1874. Baltimore, MD: Black Classic Press. ISBN 978-1-57478-019-2. OCLC 50673509.


  1. ^ Pace, Eric (December 20, 1995). "Dorothy Porter Wesley, 91, Black-History Archivist". The New York Times. Retrieved April 3, 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. doi:10.2307/3378349. ISSN 0272-3433. JSTOR 3378349. OCLC 5546608560.
  3. ^ a b c Nunes, Zita Cristina (November 20, 2018). "Cataloging Black Knowledge: How Dorothy Porter Assembled and Organized a Premier Africana Research Collection". Perspectives on History. Retrieved November 24, 2018.
  4. ^ Nunes, Zita Cristina (November 26, 2018). "Remembering the Howard University Librarian Who Decolonized the Way Books Were Catalogued". Smithsonian. Retrieved January 15, 2019.
  5. ^ Bridges, Laurie M, Raymond Pun, and Roberto A Arteaga. Wikipedia and Academic Libraries: A Global Project. E-book, Ann Arbor, MI: Maize Books, 2021,
  6. ^ "17 Are Honored In Arts Fields". The New York Times. October 14, 1994. Retrieved April 3, 2015.
  7. ^ "Dorothy B Porter - United States Public Records". FamilySearch. Retrieved April 3, 2015.
  8. ^ "Coni Uzelac - Obituary". Sun-Sentinel. May 2, 2012. Retrieved April 3, 2015.
  9. ^ Porter, James Amos (1957). "James Amos Porter Self-Portrait". National Portrait Gallery. Retrieved September 10, 2020.
  10. ^ "Charles Wesley is Dead at 95; A Pioneer in Study of Blacks". The New York Times. September 2, 1987. Retrieved April 3, 2015.
  11. ^ "Dorothy Louise Porter-Wesley - Florida, Death Index". FamilySearch. Retrieved April 3, 2015.
  12. ^ Ferguson, SallyAnn H. (1997). Andrews, William L.; Smith Foster, Frances; Harris, Trudier (eds.). Porter, Dorothy. Oxford Companion to African American Literature. pp. 596–597. doi:10.1093/acref/9780195138832.001.0001. ISBN 978-0-195-13883-2. OCLC 49346948.

Further reading[edit]

Chronological by publication date

External links[edit]

Archival collections[edit]