Happy Birthday, Dr. Charles H. Nichols!
Pioneering African American Quaker Scholar on the Slave Narrative
(6 July 1919 - 18 January 2007)
Brown University Archives
The BlackQuaker Project is proud to recognize the renowned and dedicated African American Quaker scholar, Charles H. Nichols, his birthday being two days ago, 6 July. Below is an excerpt adapted from Black Fire: African American Quakers on Spirituality and Human Rights (pp. 203-204), summarizing key aspects of his life, academic career, and storied achievements as seen by his widow, Mildred Nichols).
Charles H. Nichols was born on July 6, 1919, in the Bedford Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. [...] His gift for study became obvious during childhood, and he was admitted to the prestigious Boys High School in Brooklyn. Thereafter, he attended Brooklyn College on a Regents scholarship and graduated with honors in 1942. After two years as a teaching assistant at Hampton University, he applied and was admitted to the graduate program in American Literature at Brown University in Providence Rhode Island as a Rosenwald Fellow. The abolitionist record, the World War II era conscientious objection to war and violence, and the witness for peace of the Quakers attracted him to the Quaker meeting in Providence, where he became an active member.
His dissertation at Brown focused on the first-person accounts of Africans enslaved in America--the slave narratives--for which Brown awarded him a Ph.D. in English in 1948. Academic appointments soon followed at HBCUs Morgan State University in Baltimore and later at Hampton University in Hampton, Virginia. The USA’s racialized practices led him to Berlin for university teaching and research and to Holland for publishing. In 1969 he returned to Brown as professor and chairman of the newly founded department of Afro-American (now Africana) Studies. Nichols was a prolific writer, lecturer, mentor, and teacher. His books include Many Thousand Gone: The Ex-Slaves’ Account of their Bondage and Freedom (1963), Black Men in Chains (1972), and Arna Bontemps-Langston Hughes Letters, 1925-1967 (1980). [...] “Among his many honors were the Distinguished Contribution Award of the Society for the Study of Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States and the Education Award of the Providence Branch of the NAACP, as well as grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Danforth Foundation, and the Fulbright Commission. Brown University has named the Charles H. Nichols National Scholarship and the Charles H. Nichols Award for Africana Studies in his honor.
101 years after his birth, we recognize Charles H. Nichols, African American Quaker, for his groundbreaking scholarship, advocacy, and teaching. To learn more about him and to view excerpts of his selected scholarly works, please see Black Fire: African American Quakers on Spirituality and Human Rights, edited by Harold D. Weaver, Jr., Paul Kriese, and Stephen W. Angell (Philadelphia: Quaker Press of Friends General Council, 2011) pp. 203-2017.
Harold D. Weaver, Jr., Paul Kriese, and Stephen W. Angell, eds. Black Fire: AfricanAmerican Quakers on Spirituality and Human Rights (Philadelphia: Quaker Press of Friends General Conference, 2011), 203-204.