Benjamin Quarles Bio

Benjamin Quarles Bio


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



Quarles’ second book, The Negro in the Civil War, appeared in 1953, the year he

moved to Morgan State College in Baltimore, Maryland, to chair the department

of history. In this work he set out to show the deep flaw in the traditional picture of slaves

as passive pawns in the fight against slavery. On the contrary, he asserted, 3.5 million

African Americans had been major participants in the struggle for democracy,

180,000 of them working as soldiers, and the rest as orderlies, spies, and laborers.



Books by By Benjamin Quarles


Frederick Douglass (1948) / The Negro in the Civil War  (1953) /   The Negro in the American Revolution (1961)


Lincoln and the Negro (1962)  /  The Negro in the Making of America (1964)  /  Black Abolitionists (1969)


Allies for Freedom and Blacks on John Brown (1974) / Black Mosaic: Essays in Afro-American History and Historiography (1988)


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Chronology of the Life & Career

Benjamin Arthur Quarles

Former Professor of History

at Morgan State College



A progressive historian, Benjamin Arthur Quarles (1904-1996), was born in Boston, Massachusetts. His father was a subway porter. He himself worked as a bellhop on Boston-based steamboats and Florida hotels. He alter enrolled in Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina and then obtained his graduate education at the University of Wisconsin. His dissertation topic was the life of abolitionist Frederick Douglass. This dissertation undoubtedly was the basis for his first published historical work Frederick Douglass (1948).

His doctorate awarded in 1940, Quarles was employed by Dillard University from 1939 to 1953. From about 1948, Dr. Quarles was the dean of the Dillard faculty. Quarles taught at Morgan State from 1953 until his retirement in 1974, and headed the history department there in 1953-67. One of his many highly-regarded books of history and biography, the 1964 work The Negro in the Making of America, was reprinted as recently as 1995.

Quarles married twice: first to Vera Bullock Quarles, who died in 1951;  and then to Ruth Brett, 1952. Ruth Brett Quarles outlived her husband. They had two daughters.

There were few sympathizers at Wisconsin for Quarles’s desires to write black history. “There was a feeling that a black person studying black history would turn it into propaganda,” he later recalled. Nevertheless, Quarles stuck to his plan, and eventually found a professor who consented to guide his thesis research.

Much of Quarles writing style was learned from Professor William Hesseltine of the University of Wisconsin with whom he worked while completing his doctorate. It was a smooth  narrative mask of objectivity. Yet as Wilson Jeremiah Moses, points out in History Teacher (1998), “his persistent efforts to demonstrate the centrality of blacks in building. American civilization, and his criticism of those who did not share his belief in the mission of the United States in the world, show he was a conceptual historian with a clear agenda.”

Quarles’ second book, The Negro in the Civil War, appeared in 1953, the year he moved to Morgan State College in Baltimore, Maryland, to chair the department of history. In this work he set out to show the deep flaw in the traditional picture of slaves as passive pawns in the fight against slavery. On the contrary, he asserted, 3.5 million African Americans had been major participants in the struggle for democracy, 180,000 of them working as soldiers, and the rest as orderlies, spies, and laborers.

“Milliken’s Bend,” said Quarles, “was . . . [near Vicksburg, Mississippi] one of the hardest fought encounters in the annals of American military history.” Its lesson was not lost on the Union high brass: “The bravery of the Blacks at Milliken’s Bend,” observed Assistant Secretary of War Charles A. Dana, “completely revolutionized the sentiment of the army with regard to the employment of Negro troops.”

In his next major work, The Negro in the American Revolution, Quarles enlarged upon the theme of black Americans as major players in their own search for freedom. He was the the first to cast any light at all on the topic of the African American contribution to the revolution itself. “Unlettered, they put very little down on paper. If they are to be understood, it must be primarily by what they did. Hence, especially in the pages of this work dealing with the Negro acting of his own volition, my approach has been to state the facts about his activities, indicate the documentary sources, and as far as possible avoid conjecture as to his unrecorded thought,” he continued.

His next book Lincoln and the Negro, Quarles attempted to show Lincoln the president as a true friend of the enslaved. For Lincoln opposed slavery  opposed slaver because of the philosophy expressed in the Declaration of Independence. Yet Lincoln also believed that blacks were mentally inferior to whites, that  intermarriage was unworthy, and was non-supportive of voting rights for black Americans. Quarles still concluded: “In the story they would relate to their children, Negroes would lay stress on the enduring Lincoln, in whom death was swallowed up in victory.”

All his previous works were a prelude to his 1969 publication, Black Abolitionists. In this work Quarles challenged the accepted view that abolitionists had been primarily white reformers. There were blacks carrying the anti-slavery banners as early as the1830s. These black abolitionists spiritedly opposed efforts to colonize all black Americans in Africa, and resented the paternalization of missionary whites determined to uplift them willy-nilly. Quarles also reminded the historical community that new Negro newspapers had emphasized the non-white viewpoint, insisting on voting, civil, and human rights for an audience of both black and white readers.

For the journal Daedalus, Quarles wrote one of his last thought-provoking essays. He concluded, “The role of blacks in America—what they have done and what has been done to them—illuminates the past and informs the present. Unless we fully comprehend the role of racism in this society, we can never truly know America.” 

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1904 January 23, born in Boston, Massachusetts 1931 Receives B.A., Shaw University (Raleigh, North Carolina), awarded Social Science Research Council Fellowship 1933 Receives M.A., University of Wisconsin (Madison) 1938 Wins Rosenwald Fellowship 1939 Appointed Professor of History, Dillard University (New Orleans, Louisiana) 1940 Receives Ph.D., University of Wisconsin (Madison) 1942 Receives 2nd Social Science Research Council fellowship 1944 Receives Carnegie Corporation Advancement Teaching Fellowship 1945 Wins 2nd Rosenwald Fellowship 1947 Becomes Secretary of the New Orleans Urban League (until 1951) 1948 Publishes Frederick Douglass. Joins Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and  History 1949 Becomes Honorary Consultant in American History at the Library of Congress (until 1951). Serves on New Orleans Council of Social Agencies 1953 Leaves Dillard University. Appointed Professor of History and Chairman of the History Department, Morgan State College (Baltimore, Maryland) The Negro in the Civil War, 1957 Receives Social Science Research Council Fellowship 1957 Becomes Vice President of the Urban League (serves until 1959) 1959 Wins Guggenheim Fellowship 1960 Edits Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass 1961 Publishes The Negro in the American Revolution 1962 Publishes Lincoln and the Negro 1964 Publishes The Negro in the Making of America 1964 Serves on Advisory Committee of Library Services at the U.S. Office of Education (until  1966) 1965 Co-authors (with Dorothy Sterling) Lift Every Voice: The Lives of Booker T.  Washington, W.E.B. Du Bois, Mary Terrell, and James Weldon Johnson 1967 Becomes grantee of the American Council of Learned Societies. Becomes Vice President  of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. Inducted into Phi Alpha Theta. Publishes The Negro American: A Documentary Story (with Leslie H. Fishel, Jr.) 1968 Publishes Frederick Douglass in Great Lives Observed Series 1969 Publishes Black Abolitionists. Becomes Chairman of the State Of Maryland Commission  on Negro History and Culture 1970 Appointed for second term as Honorary Consultant in United States History to the Library of Congress. Becomes Honorary Chairman of the Maryland State Commission on Afro-American History and Culture 1971 Publishes Blacks on John Brown. Becomes Vice President Emeritus of the Association for  the Study of Afro-American Life and History. Appointed to the editorial board of the Journal of Negro History and Maryland Historical Magazine. Appointed to the  National Council of the Frederick Douglass Museum of African Art at the Smithsonian 1974 Published Allies for Freedom: Blacks and John Brown and Blacks on John Brown.  Retires from Morgan State College. Commencement Speaker at Morgan. Received the honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree. 1976 Becomes a member of the Building Committee of the Amistad Research Center. Member of the Project Advisory Committee on Black Congress members of the Joint Center for  Political Studies. Member of the Advisory Board on American History and Life of the American Bibliographical Center. Member of the Committee of Advisers of the National Humanities Center Fellowship Committee (until 1978) 1977 Serves on the Department of Army Historical Advisory Committee (until 1980) 1981 Named Professor Emeritus, Morgan State University 1988 Publishes Black Mosaic: Essays in Afro-American History and Historiography.  Received American Historical Association’s Senior Historian Scholarly Distinction Award. 1996 Receives the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History Lifetime Achievement Award Dies November 16  

Afro-Americans helped to make America what it was and what it is. Since the founding of Virginia, they have been a factor in many of the major issues in our history, and often they themselves have spoken out on these issues. For example, if in the eyes of the world today the United States stands for man’s right to be free, certainly no group in this country has sounded this viewpoint more consistently than the Negro. . . . Moreover, the Negro’s role in the United States also throws light on some of the major trends in the history of the Western world since Columbus’ time. 

The Commercial Revolution of early modern times had as a basic component a plentiful supply of transplanted Africans. Three centuries later, Negroes on the plantations in the South produced the very staple — cotton — to which the Industrial Revolution owed so much of its explosive world-wide influence. And in our own times the emergence of freedom-minded nations in Africa would seem to make it advantageous for Americans to view afresh the historic role of their colored fellows.—Foreword, The Negro in the Making of America


If, strictly speaking, there is no such thing as Afro-American history, it is because this past has become so interwoven in the whole fabric of our culture. Except for the Indian, the Negro is America’s oldest ethnic minority. Except for the first settlers at Jamestown, the Negro’s roots in the original thirteen colonies sink deeper than any other group from across the Atlantic.—Foreword, The Negro in the Making of America



Frederick Douglass, Associated Publishers, 1948.

The Negro in the Civil War, Little Brown, 1953.

The Negro in the American Revolution, University of North Carolina Press, 1961.

Lincoln and the Negro, Oxford, 1962.

The Negro in the Making of America, Collier, 1964.

Black Abolitionists, Oxford, 1969.

Allies for Freedom and Blacks on John Brown, Oxford, 1974.

Black Mosaic: Essays in Afro-American History and Historiography (1988)

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update 21 May 2012




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