Dr. Margaret Wade-Lewis
Dr. Margaret Wade-Lewis received her bachelor’s degree in English from Langston University, graduating summa cum laude. She then received a master’s in English from Oklahoma State University. In 1988 she received her Ph.D. in linguistics from New York University. Her dissertation was entitled The African substratum in American English. She was the first African-American woman to receive a Ph.D. from the department. Dr. Wade-Lewis was professor of Black Studies at the State University of New York at New Paltz. At the time of her death, she was the longtime chair of New Paltz’s Black Studies Department, director of the Linguistics Program, and director of the Scholar’s Mentorship Program, a networking initiative for talented and high achieving general admission students of color. The University now has a scholarship program named after her memory.
Margaret was a pioneer, one of the founders of the Black Studies Department and of the Mentorship Program. It was perhaps her own perspective as a pioneer that led to her interest in the stories of the earliest African American linguists, most significantly the creolists Beryl Loftman Bailey and Lorenzo Dow Turner. She published several articles on Bailey’s life and contributions to linguistic theory. While some may assert that Bailey was Jamaican—after all, she was born there and did not leave the island to move to New York until she was 28—Margaret proceeded from the view that New York citizenship is, like a good bidialectalism or bilingualism program, additive, not subtractive.
The great labor of Margaret’s linguistics career was her biography of Lorenzo Dow Turner. Published in 2007 by the University of South Carolina Press, Lorenzo Dow Turner: Father of Gullah Studies received the College Literary Association’s Book Award in 2008. The book distills Margaret’s extensive research on Turner as scholar and humanist. As established in Thomas Klein’s 2009 review in the Journal of Pidgin and Creole Languages, the book makes a major contribution to the history of creole studies.
In addition to her publications, Margaret made a name for herself as a teacher and mentor. RateMyProfessors.com, the website that enables students to speak anonymously to the world about their professors, includes the following assessments of Margaret:
- April 7, 2009: “Dr. Wade-Lewis is amazing. She is the sweetest, most passionate, caring teacher you could have. and SHE KNOWS HER STUFFFFFFF. Take Her! She will push you!”
- December 31, 2009: “Rest in Peace Dr. Wade Lewis, you have no idea the lives you changed and the hearts you touched. New Paltz will never be the same.”
- January 4, 2010: “You changed my perception of human language. MAY YOU REST IN PEACE, Mrs. Wade.”
Margaret was soft-spoken, patient, and dedicated. She had enormous strength, character, and integrity. And she was a wonderful story-teller with wonderful stories to tell. Quite simply, she was a lovely person. Margaret is survived by her husband David Lewis, by three children, and by her eight brothers and sisters.
A selection of Dr. Wade-Lewis’ works and interests may be found here.
–Modified from a Obit prepared by John Victor Singler, Professor of Linguistics, New York University