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Black News and News Makers in History: Dorothy Porter Wesley

Black news from Pasadena - Black News and News Makers in History recognizes Dorothy Porter Wesley this week in Black historyDorothy Porter Wesley, pioneer in the preservation of sources for African-American history.

Dorothy Porter Wesley, whose maiden name was Burnett, was born in Warrenton, Virginia in 1905 and reared in Montclair, N.J. She went received a bachelor's degree in 1928 from Howard and a master's degree in library science in 1932 from Columbia University.

Her first husband, James Amos Porter, who had headed Howard's fine arts department, died in 1970. She married Charles Harris Wesley, an authority on black history and former professor and dean at Howard, in 1979. He died in 1987.

Wesley retired in 1975 as the curator of the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, a center for research involving documents about black history and kindred fields. The center is on the Howard campus in Washington, D.C. and the collection at the Moorland-Spingarn Collection of Afro-American Life and History within the library of Howard University is extensive--one of the world's largest repositories of materials for studying black history and culture.

She began acquiring books and other materials in 1930 and from then until 1973, the center's holdings grew to 180,000 items from 3,000. They include letters, manuscripts, pamphlets, books, oral-history materials and microfilms.

Over the years, Mrs. Wesley was also known by the surname Porter and the double surname Porter Wesley. Her 1971 book, "Early Negro Writings 1760-1837" was republished this fall, by Black Classic Press, with her name given as Dorothy Porter.

She began working at Howard in 1928 as a library cataloger and was named, in 1930, librarian of what was to become the Moorland-Spingarn center's collection. At the time, it was called the Moorland Foundation because it consisted chiefly of a books donated by Dr. Jesse Moorland, a Howard trustee; in 1946 the book collection of Arthur B. Spingarn was added to it.

Wesley's other writings include the books "North American Negro Poets: A Bibliographical Checklist" (1945), "Negro Protest Pamphlets" (1969) and "The Negro in the United States: A Selected Bibliography" (1970).

She was awarded the 1993 Distinguished Service Award of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission. The NHPRC award was one of many she had received as an archivist, librarian, bibliographer, and author.

On October 24, 1994, President Clinton presented her with the Charles Frankel Award from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

She died of cancer at the age of 91 on December 17, 1995 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida after relocating there from Washington, D.C. to be with her daughter, Constance Burnett Porter Uzelac.

The Moorland-Spingarn Research Center celebrates Wesley annually at Howard University with a lecture series started in 1989 as a tribute to its Curator Emerita Dorothy Porter Wesley, who guided the Center's development and activities for a period of forty years until her retirement in 1975. Dr. Porter Wesley was an avid supporter of the MSRC until her death in 1995.

Compiled from The Newsletter of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, and The NY Times article by Eric Pace published December 20, 1995. For more of the story, see http://www.broward.org/Library/LocationsHours/Branches/AA/Pages/AAWesleyCollection.aspx.