Historical Profile: Charles H. Wesley (1891-1987)

Charles h. Wesley

A while ago I learned that notable African American scholar Charles H. Wesley once live in our area. In tracking down his residential addresses, I was able to determine that he lived at 731 Fairmont Street, NW, between 1919 and 1947 (perhaps as early as 1915), and later lived at 1824 9th Street, NW, between 1965 and 1967 and later still at 1824 Taylor Street, NW, from 1969-1973.

According to the resources I consulted, Wesley was an outstanding scholar, historian, author and educator. Wesley was a graduate of Fisk University and the Yale University graduate school. From 1914 to 1937, he served as an AME Church minister and elder. In 1918 Wesley became pastor at Ebenezer African Methodist Episcopal Church in Washington, DC.

In 1916 he began a long association with Carter G. Woodson’s Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, serving as president from 1950 to 1965, and as executive director until 1972. In 1923, he was elected President, Graduate Chapter, Mu Lambda and organized the Beta-Mu Lambda Corporation.

In 1925, Wesley earned a doctorate from Harvard, only the third awarded by Harvard to an African American. During the course of his other achievements, Wesley served on the Howard University faculty from 1913 to 1942. In 1928, Wesley had received an honorary Doctorate of Divinity from Wilberforce University. In 1930, having been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, Wesley went to England to study emancipation in the British Empire.

Wesley subsequently wrote “The History of Alpha Phi Alpha” in 1953. Dr. Wesley was the author of hundreds of articles and 12 books on black history, ranging from studies on black labor in the United States to a biography of Richard Allen, the founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. His works include “Negro Labor in the United States, 1850-1925” (1927), “Collapse of the Confederacy” (1937) and his last book, “The History of the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs: A Legacy of Service” (1984).

He wrote extensively about the history and development of black fraternal organizations, and he made a point of writing about the group life of blacks instead of blacks as objects of government policy. He was deeply concerned that the pages of history should objectively reflect the contributions of blacks to American civilization. His doctorial dissertation, “Negro Labor in the United States 1850 to 1925” was the first comprehensive study of American blacks as laborers instead of slaves. The New York Times called it a “valuable contribution to the economic history of the United States.”

Wesley became president of Wilberforce University from 1942 to 1947, during which time he improved the faculty, founded new programs (such as African Studies), and integrated the student body. In 1947, he became president of the College of Education and Industrial Arts of Central State College and served until 1965. Other awards he earned included a Phi Beta Kappa Key, the Scottish Rite Gold Medal Award of the United Supreme Council, Southern Jurisdiction, Prince Hall Affiliation.

In 1965 Wesley became Executive Director of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, and was also responsible for all research and publications. He served until 1972 and then became Executive Director Emeritus. For these additional accomplishments he earned the Armistad Award. In his last major career endeavor, from 1974 to 1976, Wesley served as the director of Philadelphia’s Afro-American Historical and Cultural Museum. (Biography adapted from Fine a Grave Website written by  Warrick L. Barrett) 


“Charles H. Wesley.” Wikipedia. Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_H._Wesley

“Charles H. Wesley, 95, Dies; Noted Black History Scholar.” The Washington Post, August 22, 1987, p. D4.

“Charles Harris Wesley.” From Find a Grave Website. Available at: http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=7468715

“Dr. Charles Wesley dies at 95.” New York Amsterdam News, August 29, 1987, p. 34.

Notable Kentucky African Americans Database: Wesley, Charles H. Available at: http://www.uky.edu/Libraries/NKAA/record.php?note_id=1332

Who’s Who in Colored America 1950.


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