Benjamin A. Quarles Dead at 92: Morgan State history professor pioneered in African-American studies.

November 19, 1996

ONE OF THE REASONS African-American history is today regarded as a legitimate and serious field of study is Benjamin A. Quarles, who died over the weekend at 92. The Morgan State University history professor was a meticulous and uncompromising researcher, who authored such seminal works as "The Negro in the American Revolution" (1961) and "The Negro in the Making of America" (1964).

But even though his scholarship earned him honorary doctorates from 17 universities, Dr. Quarles was always aware of the wider context of his achievements. "We are indebted to the activists for our academic respectability," he said, referring to the civil rights revolution in America and the liberation of old colonies in Africa that prompted a thorough re-examination of history. "We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny," he used to say, quoting Martin Luther King Jr.

A native of Boston, Dr. Quarles worked as a porter and waiter before graduating from Shaw University in 1931 as its valedictorian. Although he began his teaching career at Shaw three years later, he drew wider academic attention to himself after the 1948 publication of "Frederick Douglass," a book that was based on his University of Wisconsin doctoral dissertation.

Dr. Quarles joined the Morgan State faculty in 1953. He stayed there until his retirement in 1974, rebuffing offers from more prominent universities. He served on many boards and received many honors. He particularly relished his 1971 appointment as an honorary consultant to the Library of Congress, seeing it not only as a personal tribute but also as an official recognition that "black history is a valid pursuit."

Dr. Quarles was a humble man. To those who were effusive in praise for him, he usually had a self-effacing response: "I was in the right place at the right time."

Pub Date: 11/19/96

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