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Wesley, Charles Harris : Home

Written by: Heather Dent. '11, Edited by: Katie Grindstaff, '15

Charles Harris Wesley

Charles Harris Wesley was a historian and teacher who is accredited with substantially influencing and changing the view on racism in American history.

Charles Harris Wesley was born in Louisville, Kentucky in 1891.  He earned his A.B. at Fisk University, Berea’s sister school, in 1911, and remains one of that college’s most distinguished alumni.  He earned his M.A. at Yale University and his PH.D. at Harvard University.  He held 10 honorary degrees, one of which was presented by Berea in 1971.

Wesley established himself as a distinguished history teacher for 40 years.  He served as an administrative leader of institutions of higher learning between 1937 and 1965, serving as Dean of Howard University, President of Wilberforce University, and President of Central State College of Ohio.

As a historian Wesley had an enormous influence in the “Revisionist School,” which was responsible for changing profoundly the racist view of American history maintained until 1930.  Along with W. E. Dubois, Carter G. Woodson, John Hope Franklin, and a host of white historians, Wesley’s prolific output of books and articles since 1930 helped to turn the tide against the view of racial supremacy as an integral and acceptable part of American history.  His labors provided proof that through conscientious and scholarly work, people’s attitudes and what they accept as knowledge could be changed.

Wesley was appointed Executive Director of Research and Publications of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, an organization founded by one of Berea’s greatest alumni, Carter G. Woodson.  Wesley was directly connected to this organization beginning in 1915.  He had a close relationship with Carter G. Woodson for over 40 years until Woodson’s death in 1950.  In his letter nominating Wesley for the honorary degree, Richard Drake, Chair of Berea's History and Political Science Department at the time, referred to Wesley as the “Dean of Historians associated with Dr. Woodson since the founding of the association” and the man upon whom Woodson’s “mantle appropriately rests"(1970).

Additional Resources

  • Berea College Vertical File, Special Collections and Archives 
  • RG 11 – Honorary Degrees III, Berea College Archives  
  • Drake, Richard B. Letter to Dean William M. Jones. 9 Nov. 1970. TS.