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COLLECTION Identifier: HUM 253

Eileen Southern personal archive


Eileen Jackson Southern (1920-2002) was the first African-American woman to be appointed as a tenured full professor at Harvard University, where she taught from 1975 to 1987. The collection consists of correspondence, writings, and publications that chronicle her time as a Harvard College professor and as Chair of the Afro-American Department, as well as her tenure at the City University of New York, and retirement.


  • Creation: 1936-1993


Conditions Governing Access

Open for research with the following exceptions: Harvard University records are restricted for 50 years. Personnel and student records are closed for 80 years. These restrictions appear in the Correspondence files series and are noted at the folder level.


1.66 cubic feet (1 record carton, 1 extra-wide document box, 1 half-document box)

The Eileen Jackson Southern personal archive predominantly documents Southern’s professional life, research, and scholarship during her tenure at Harvard. The collection consists of personal and professional correspondence and publications over the course of Southern’s career as a Professor of Afro-American Studies and Music at Harvard University and early retirement, from 1959 to 1993. Includes letters from students at Harvard University, personal and official communications with peers in the Department of Music and Department of Afro-American Studies, along with other Harvard faculty and administrators, including former University President Derek Bok, Professors Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and Daniel Bell. Additional correspondence contains letters from Southern’s time at City University of New York, inquiries for research assistance, as well as requests and invitations to lecture or join as a visiting professor. Also includes letters regarding subscriptions and article submissions for The Black Perspective in Music, a musicology journal dedicated to the study of black music founded by Southern in 1973.

Also incorporated in the collection are writings and publications by Southern. Of particular note are two pieces that discuss Southern’s experiences at Harvard. Southern’s contributing piece, "A Pioneer: Black and Female, from Varieties of Black Experience at Harvard," in which Southern discusses the difficulties, of executing her duties during her tenure, primarily the prevalent racism and sexism. In “The Eileen Southern Report for 1976,” Southern notes the lack of institutional community support for the Department of Afro-American Studies. Other publications include four volumes of The Black Perspective in Music, report and summary documentation for the National Endowment of the Humanities grant funded research project, Afro-American Traditions in Song, Sermon, Tale, and Dance: An Annotated Bibliography, and "An Early Black Concert Company: The Hyers Sisters Combination," among others. In addition, lecture notes from Southern’s Music 206 course at Harvard, and documentation of academic and professional accomplishments, consisting of Southern’s collegiate grade reports, curriculum vitae, and list of professional activities are included.

Biographical Note on Eileen Southern

Eileen Jackson Southern (1920-2002) was a professor of Afro-American Studies and Music at Harvard University from 1974 to 1987. Southern was the first African-American woman to be appointed as a tenured full professor at Harvard, and is considered a preeminent authority on Renaissance and African-American music.

Southern was born on February 19, 1920 in Minneapolis, Minnesota to Walter Wade and Lilla (Gibson) Jackson. Southern grew up in the Northern Midwest, spending her childhood in Minneapolis, Minnesota; Sioux Falls, South Dakota; and Chicago, Illinois. At age twelve, Southern preformed her first full length piano recital, and made her concert debut with the Chicago Musical College symphony orchestra at Orchestra Hall in 1938 at the age of 18.

Southern received her Bachelor of Arts in 1940, and a Master of Arts in 1941 in Music History from the University of Chicago. Challenged by the discrimination of segregation in higher education organizations, Southern moved south, eventually securing positions as a lecturer and professor at Prairie View University and Southern University, historically black institutions. In 1954, Southern enrolled at New York University, earning her Doctorate degree in Musicology in 1961.

In 1960, Southern joined the faculty of Brooklyn College, City University of New York (CUNY), as an instructor in the Department of Music, and was promoted to Assistant Professor in 1964. In 1968, Southern joined the faculty at York College, CUNY, as an Associate Professor, and aided in the creation of the university’s music department. During her tenure at York College in 1971, Southern wrote The Music of Black Americans: A History, which is considered her core scholarly contribution on, and one of the authoritative texts of, African-American musicology.

Southern joined Harvard University in 1974 as a lecturer for the Afro-American Studies Department. In 1975, Southern was appointed a joint professorship in Afro-American Studies and Music Departments, becoming the first African-American woman to achieve full professorship with tenure. During Southern’s time at Harvard, she taught courses on African-American and Renaissance music, and was also an advocate for the advancement and recognition of the Afro-American Studies Department. As Department Chair from 1976 until 1979, Southern spearheaded the reorganization, expansion, and increased quality of the department’s curriculum, and successfully pushed for inclusion of the Department’s courses in the General Education program. Southern also oversaw the establishment of the Department newsletter, Nimba, and developed lecture series, inviting scholars specializing in various aspects of African-American studies.

Southern was an active member of the Harvard faculty community throughout her time at the university. She was a member of the Advisory Board for the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute in Afro-American Research, the General Education Committee, and was elected to the Shop Club (now the Harvard Faculty Club). In 1979, Southern received a prestigious National Endowment of Humanities grant to fund the research for her co-authored work, African-American Traditions in Song, Sermon, Tale and Dance, 1600s-1920: An Annotated Bibliography of Literature, Collections, and Artworks. In addition to her many roles in academia, Southern also dedicated her research to, and wrote numerous articles on, the historical contributions of African-American music and musicians.

In 1987, Southern retired from Harvard as Professor Emeritus and returned to St. Albans, New York, where she had lived during her time at the City University of New York. Her contributions and championing of African-American musicology earned her special recognition, receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000 from the Society of American Music and a National Humanities Medal in 2001. Southern died in Port Charlotte, Florida in 2002 at the age of 82.

Historical Note on the Department of African and African-American Studies

The Afro-American Studies Department (now the Department of African and African American Studies), was established in 1969 after a year-long campaign by the Harvard African-American student community. Along with the students’ call in 1968 for an increase in black student enrollment and hiring of black professors, they also appealed for the creation of an independent department dedicated to African and African American courses. A report provided by the first Chair of the Department, Ewart Guinier, stated that within the first year, there were 354 students enrolled in the 25 courses offered by the department. In 1972, the first class of fourteen Afro-American Studies concentrators graduated. In 1976, Eileen Southern was appointed as a tenured full professor to the Department and was also named Chair, replacing Ewart Guinier. During her three-year term as Chair, Southern expanded and increased the quality of the Department’s curriculum, and pushed for greater inclusion and recognition of the Department within the larger Harvard community.


Series in the collection
  1. Correspondence files, 1959-1993 and undated
  2. Personal records, 1936-1988
  3. Talks and lectures, 1967-1987 and undated
  4. Music 206 teaching materials, 1981-1985
  5. Writings, 1968-1992, and undated

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Eileen Southern, February 1994; Accession 12832.

Related Materials

The Harvard University Archives holds The Eileen Southern Initiative : A library-classroom collaboration at Harvard University [archived website], 2019 and later accruals, Periodic captures of Harvard University's Eileen Southern Initiative website contain an online exhibition, recordings of the Initiative's activities, and background information about the Initiative. Formats include text, still images, and audio and video recordings.

The Harvard University Archives also holds Harvard University. Department of Afro-American Studies. Administrative files, 1971-1987 (inclusive)(UAV 126.5095.2).

The Henry Murray Research Archive at Harvard University holds an oral history interview with Eileen Southern. See Walzer, Judith B., 1988, "Oral History of the Tenured Women in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University, 1981",, Harvard Dataverse, V8

Related Materials

The Center for Black Music Research Library and Archives at Columbia College Chicago holds an Eileen Southern Collection. See for a guide.

Special Collections and Archives at the John Hope and Aurelia E. Franklin Library at Fisk University holds the Eileen Jackson Southern Collection, Papers, 1971- . For links to collection guides, see

The Archives, Manuscripts and Rare Books Department at the John B Cade Library, Southern University and A&M College holds an Eileen Southern collection, as well. For more information, contact

Inventory update

This document last updated 2021 November 24.

Processing Information

This collection was processed by Ashley Thomas in March 2017, with additional updates made by Olivia Mandica-Hart in October 2017. All folder titles were supplied by the archivist.

Southern, Eileen. Eileen Southern personal archive, 1936-1993 : an inventory
Harvard University Archives
March 31, 2017
Description rules
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Harvard University Archives Repository

Holding nearly four centuries of materials, the Harvard University Archives is the principal repository for the institutional records of Harvard University and the personal archives of Harvard faculty, as well as collections related to students, alumni, Harvard-affiliates and other associated topics. The collections document the intellectual, cultural, administrative and social life of Harvard and the influence of the University as it emerged across the globe.

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