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Guide to the Earl E. Thorpe Papers, 1942-1990

Abstract

Historian, professor, clergyman, and activist; resident of Durham, N.C. The papers of Earl E. Thorpe span the years 1942-1990, the bulk of the materials having been generated during the years 1965 to 1982. Primarily, materials in the collection address Thorpe's work at North Carolina Central University (formerly North Carolina College), and his tenure as visiting professor at Harvard and Duke universities. Topics include student activism, teaching, racial and departmental politics on campus, and the development of viable African American Studies programs. Thorpe's service as chair of the program committee for the 1979 meeting of the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History (ASALH), and his term as president of the ASALH in 1980 are also well represented. Personal correspondence with family and students, and material reflective of Thorpe's life in the ministry are scattered throughout. Some materials also touch on North Carolina and Durham politics and race relations.

Descriptive Summary

Title
Earl E. Thorpe papers
Creator
Thorpe, Earl Endris, 1924-1989
Extent
2.0 linear feet, 1225 items
Repository
David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
Location
For current information on the location of these materials, please consult the Library's online catalog.
Language
Material in English

Collection Overview

The papers of Earl E. Thorpe - historian, clergyman, and activist - span the years 1942 to 1990, the bulk of the materials having been generated during the years 1965-1982. The collection consists of six series: Correspondence, Writings and Speeches, Pictures, Printed Material, Clippings, and Genealogical Papers. Primarily, materials in the collection address Thorpe's work at North Carolina Central University (formerly North Carolina College), and his tenure as visiting professor at Harvard and Duke universities. Thorpe's service as chair of the program committee for the 1979 meeting of the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History (ASALH), and his term as president of the ASALH in 1980 are also well represented. Personal correspondence with family and students, and material reflective of Thorpe's life in the ministry are scattered throughout.

The bulk of the collection consists of the personal and professional correspondence of Thorpe. To 1970, material in the Correspondence Series centers on departmental politics at North Carolina College - specifically confusion and dissension over Thorpe's promotion to the chair of the history department. Letters from Thorpe's daughter at Spellman College in Atlanta, missives from friends and former students, a World War II era note from Thorpe to Martha V. Branch - Thorpe's future wife - and a small amount of professional correspondence are also represented.

Beginning in 1971, correspondence turns to Thorpe's appointment as a visiting professor of Afro-American Studies at Harvard University. The letters reveal the substance of Thorpe's classes, and the intellectual environment at Harvard - especially as it concerns the Afro-American studies department. The challenges fading the organization and the development of a viable Afro-American Studies program emerge in correspondence between Thorpe and Ewart Gunier - chair of the Harvard black studies program - letters copied to Thorpe from others, and internal memoranda from Harvard's Afro-American Studies program.

From 1972 through 1978, correspondence focuses again on Thorpe's duties at North Carolina Central University: tenure proceedings, student activism, class organization, personnel searches, and race politics on campus. Of particular interest are letters concerning the appointment of a white instructor to teach NCCU's Afro-American history survey, and the organization of the Helen G. Edmonds history colloquium. Matters unrelated to the history department or the workings of the campus are touched upon - planning for family reunions, and correspondence concerning Thorpe's health, for example.

Beginning in 1978, correspondence turns to Thorpe's duties as chair of the program committee for the 1979 meeting of the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History (ASALH). In some detail, the letters recount the organization of the ASALH conference program - especially the politics and compromise involved in such a labor. Principal correspondents are ASALH officials, but included are notes from prominent African American historians. Panel and papers abstracts submitted for the committee's consideration are filed in the Writings and Speeches Series. A number of letters and abstracts represent efforts by the Association of Black Women Historians to organize panels at the meeting.

In 1980, correspondence shifts to matters concerning Professor Thorpe's tenure as president of the ASALH. The organization of the 1981 conference in New Orleans is prominent. Correspondence pondering the future of the ASALH in light of recent mismanagement is also present. Of material not related to ASALH in this period, correspondence between Thorpe and Lerone Bennet, Jr. is especially interesting. In 1981, Thorpe charged Bennet with plagiarizing Thorpe's work in preparing a piece for Ebony magazine. As if preparing for a trial, Professor Thorpe went so far as to collect evidence and build a case. The matter, however, was never fully resolved.

Paul Zwillenberg has written a history honors thesis probing Professor Thorpe's thoughts and writings. I Dream a World: An Intellectual Biography of Earl Endris Thorpe may be examined in the reading room of the Rubenstein Library.

Administrative Information

A majority of collections are stored off site and must be requested at least 48 business hours in advance for retrieval. Contact Rubenstein Library staff before visiting. Read More »

warning Access Restrictions

Collection is open for research.

However, collection may contain materials to which the Acknowledgment of Legal Responsibilities and Privacy Rights form applies. Patrons must sign this form before using this collection.

Also, all or portions of this collection may be housed off-site in Duke University's Library Service Center. Consequently, there may be a 24-hour delay in obtaining these materials.

Please contact Research Services staff before visiting the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library to use this collection.

warning Use Restrictions

The copyright interests in this collection have not been transferred to Duke University. For more information, consult the copyright section of the Regulations and Procedures of the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

Contents of the Collection

Correspondence, 1944-1980, Sept.
Box 1
Correspondence, 1980, Oct.-1990
Box 2
Writings and speeches, 1942-1989

Contains a number of Thorpe's sermon notes, tape recordings of Thorpe preaching, some of the professor's course syllabi and essays, including a discourse on Alex Haley's Roots and abstracts sent to Thorpe in his position as chair of the 1979 ASALH program committee.

Box 2
Printed material, 1970-1989

Contains programs and publications from the ASALH, as well as various newsletters, announcements, and minutes representing Thorpe's myriad political interests. Fugitive pieces from the Durham People's Alliance and the Edgemont Community Center are also included.

Box 3
Photographs, bulk 1950s

Consists of photos from North Carolina College during the 1950s. Subjects include John Wheeler, Alphonso Elder, Albert Turner, Benjamin Mays, Rayford Logan, and others. Copies of photographs from Thorpe's personal collection are also present.

Box 3
Clippings, 1940s-1980s

Contains pieces written by or on Thorpe, mostly in the local press. Included is a letter Thorpe wrote to his high school newspaper while stationed in Italy during World War II. The letter criticized Durham's black leaders for what Thorpe sees as their less than principled stance on local race matters.

Box 3
Genealogical papers, 1946 and undated

Along with official papers, such as Thorpe's Army discharge and various birth certificates, the genealogical papers contain drafts of family histories written by Thorpe.

Box 3
Oversize

Two issues of The African World, 1975

Box 3
Correspondence, 1965-1982
Box 4
Guess Road Citizens' Advisory Committee, 1974
Box 4
Panhellenic Council, 1974
Box 4
Clippings, 1973-1982

Clippings deal with various legal matters and race issues. One clipping regarding Miriam Makeba, then-wife of Stokely Carmichael; White Rule in Black Africa, Journal and Guide, 1973; Thorpe Connects Racism, Nuclear War, The College of Wooster Voice, 1982; and The Planter on the Couch: Earl Thorpe and the Psychodynamics of Slavery by John Blassingame, Journal of Negro History, 1975.

Box 5
Miscellaneous Papers

Folder includes additional correspondence, 1982; The Untold Story of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People, 1981 by Thorpe; State Supported Traditionally Negro Colleges in North Carolina Special Report, 1967 by the North Carolina Board of Higher Education; and Department of History and Social Science Self-Study Reports, 1971-1974 from North Carolina College.

Box 5

Historical Note

Date Event(s)
1924, Nov. 9 Born, Durham, NC
1942 Graduated from Hillside High School, Durham, NC
1943-1946 Served in U.S. Army
1946 Married Martha Vivian Branch
1948 Received B.A. degree from North Carolina College (now North Carolina Central University)
1949 Received M.A. degree from North Carolina College
1951-1953 Held various teaching positions in St. Louis, MO; Normal, AL; and Baton Rouge, LA
1953 Received Ph.D. in history from Ohio State University
1962 Joined history department at North Carolina College
1966 Appointed chairman of the History Department at North Carolina College, previously served as acting chairman
1972 Visiting professor of Afro-American studies at Harvard University
1976 Ordained as minister
1978 Chaired the program committee for the 1979 meeting of the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History (ASALH)
1980 President, ASALH
1989, Jan. 20 Died, Durham, NC

Subject Headings

Preferred Citation

[Identification of item], Earl E. Thorpe papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.

Provenance

The Earl E. Thorpe papers were received by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library as a gift in 1982, 1985 and 1990.

Processing Information

Processed by Alexander X. Byrd, November 1993

Encoded by Paula Jeannet Mangiafico, Stephen Douglas Miller, 1993 and 2011

Accession(s) described in this finding aid: 3-18-82, 3-22-82, 7-6-82, 9-25-85, and 90-100