Brawley wrote many scholarly books during his lifetime that became standard college textbooks. Additionally, he served as professor of literature at Howard University in Washington D.C.
One of his many prose publications chronicled literary history while others explored African American culture and history. His 1921 work A Social History of the American Negro was an essential step toward developing black self-awareness.
Early Life and Education
As a writer, Brawley produced everything from poetry to scholarly texts. His focus lay largely in African American literature; during his lifetime, he published numerous works.
Early publications included scholarly tomes on literary history, such as one on Paul Laurence Dunbar. He also explored higher education for blacks.
Soon, he joined Howard University’s faculty in Washington D.C. Here he met Hilda Damaris Prowd – his future wife who shared his passions for opera, travel and reading – who also shared in his sonnet First Sight about their first meeting. Additionally he taught and became its inaugural dean; other professional endeavors included Shaw University and Morehouse College positions.
Like his father before him, Brawley followed in his father’s footsteps and pursued a career in teaching and writing. He earned both a BA from the University of Chicago and MA from Harvard. Over his lifetime he taught at various schools such as Atlanta Baptist Seminary (now Morehouse College) and Shaw University.
His 1921 book A Social History of the American Negro was widely read and appreciated by leaders like NAACP founder Walter White.
He authored several chapbooks to showcase his poetry, such as A Toast to Love and Death and The Problem, among others. However, his views on African American literature caused much debate among black critics from the Harlem Renaissance movement.
Achievement and Honors
Brawley was best known for his prolific literary and African American history prose publications. Macmillan published Brawley’s A Short History of the Negro in 1913; since then he wrote several more works that documented their history.
As a critic, he sought ways to bridge African American literature with mainstream European and American literature, leading him into some controversy, such as accusations that his writings were too bourgeois.
He was one of the foremost black scholars during his lifetime, especially for his research into Paul Laurence Dunbar and other black writers. Additionally, he taught at Shaw University and Morehouse College in Atlanta before becoming dean at Howard University – receiving Archer Hall at Morehouse as an honorary nameplate in recognition of his efforts.
Brawley wrote numerous textbooks used at colleges. Additionally, he was an accomplished poet who contributed experimental prose poems to many journals and magazines.
After graduating from Atlanta Baptist Seminary, Brawley taught in a one-room school near Palatka, Florida before returning home and joining his alma mater as part of its faculty, helping shape it into Morehouse College.
Brawley released his first booklet of poems during this time titled A Toast to Love and Death, while working summer jobs on both a tobacco farm and printing company to support himself. Due to differences with church hierarchy, he eventually left The Messiah Congregation in Brockton Massachusetts due to ministerial duties being conflicted upon and also taught at Shaw University before eventually joining Howard University’s staff in Washington D.C.
Brawley contributed articles and essays to periodicals and books covering literary subjects throughout his career. As an educator at several historically black colleges in the South and East, including Atlanta Baptist Seminary (later Morehouse College) in Georgia from 1902-1910 (and again between 1912-20). Additionally, Brawley founded Howard University’s African American Studies department as well as serving on Shaw University’s faculty from Raleigh in North Carolina between 1923-1931.
Brawley was an accomplished author who wrote extensively about African-American experience. He published several books, such as Women of Achievement (c. 1919). Other works by Brawley included The History of Black People of America and Sin and Salvation.