ChickenBones: A Journal

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A “recollection I have was when Ruth’s advisor in West Philadelphia High School refused to approve

her registration for a course in Latin. The advisor told her that Latin was ‘absolutely out of the question’

and that she should not think of going to college. The advisor recommended home economics . . .



Books by Michele Valerie Ronnick


Cicero's "Paradoxa Stoicorum"The Autobiography of William Sanders Scarborough  / The Works of William Sanders Scarborough

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Black Classicism: "Tell Them We Are Rising!”

Presidential Address (CAMWS 2010)

By Michele Valerie Ronnick


It is great to be in the Sooner state—a state whose very geography offers evidence of its classical connections! From a map drawn by Dr. Michael Masopust who teaches here at the University of Oklahoma we can see these towns: Ceres, whose fruitful earth produces oil; Omega which is five and a half miles from Alpha; Arcadia, whose website mentions the town’s peacefulness; Antioch, which is—sad to say—now a ghost town; and Troy, not named, as is sometimes thought, for Troy Aikman, who played for the Sooners as quarterback in the mid 1980s.

Jesting aside, I want to talk to you tonight about African American history—here in Oklahoma and beyond, and to connect this with the study of Greek and Latin, and to African American intellectual work in general. Oklahoma is the home state of Cornel West, Class of 1943 University Professor of Religion at Princeton University who was born in Tulsa in June of 1953. As you know, his colleague at Princeton is Toni Morrison, the newly retired Robert F. Goheen Professor of Humanities, who was the first black woman to win a Nobel Prize in Literature. She graduated from Howard University in 1953 with a minor in classics, and tonight I call your attention to her haunting novel Paradise (1997), which is set in a rural area of Oklahoma populated by characters such as Juvenal DuPres, the Cato Family, and two women named Seneca and Pallas.

Oklahoma is also the home of J. C. Watts, Jr.—that is, Julius Caesar Watts, Jr., who as quarterback led the Sooners to consecutive victories in the Orange Bowl in 1980 and 1981. From 1995 to 2003, Watts represented Oklahoma’s 4th Congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives. He was the first African American from either party to deliver an official response to a State of the Union address (which he did following President Clinton's speech in 1997). Watts carries his father’s name, J. C. “Buddy” Watts, Sr., and the initials J. C. didn't stand for anything until the day

that his father’s elementary school teacher asked him to provide a full name. Remembering that one of his sisters had been studying the Roman Empire, the young J. C. Watts, Jr. proudly said: “Julius Caesar!”1

Oklahoma is also the home state of Margaret Wade-Lewis. After graduating from Tulsa’s Booker T. Washington High School in 1973, she earned a B.A. in English from Langston University and an M.A. in English from Oklahoma State University. In 1988 she completed her doctorate in linguistics at New York University and was the first African American woman to do so.2 She died in December of 2009 and I dedicate this essay to her. We became friends through our common interest in the history of black philology: mine in the black classicist William Sanders Scarborough (1852-1926) and Howard University’s first black professor of Greek, Wiley Lane (1852-1885), and hers in the son of Lane’s friend, Rooks Turner (1844-1926).3

This was Lorenzo Dow Turner (1890-1972) who after earning his doctorate in English at the University of Chicago in 1940 pioneered the study of the Gullah language. He proved that Gullah was not a form of substandard English as many established scholars believed, but was instead descended from African languages. Turner’s work helped pave the way for Gullah studies, dialectgeography and creole linguistics.

This leads us to the main topic of my address: black classicism and the influence of Graeco-Roman heritage upon the professional and creative lives of people of African descent. It may surprise some of us to know that the classical curriculum was the foundation of black education for many years in the United States. It was in fact the springboard for philological work in any language, ancient or modern, by people of African descent. We classicists can take great pride in William Sanders Scarborough, whose work marks the beginning of a line of African American academics from our own fellow classicist Frank Snowden (1911-2007) to Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Houston Baker, and Toni Morrison.

Here in Oklahoma until 1897 (the year after the Supreme Court’s verdict in the Plessy v. Ferguson case that decided schools should be “separate but equal”), it was at least in theory possible for an African American student to apply for admission at the University of Oklahoma, for each county made its own rules. Before that system was discarded and segregation was mandated throughout the territory, the question of integration arose during the term of the University of Oklahoma’s first president, David Ross Boyd.

He and his faculty (four in number) had strong opinions on the subject. President Boyd, the son of James Ross Boyd, an Ohio abolitionist, favored integration. But Edwin DeBarr, professor of chemistry, was strongly opposed. DeBarr had a life-long and irrational fear of black people and had been active in the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s. Supporting President Boyd was William N. Rice—a classicist—who approved of mixed race schools. The issue came to a head in 1892 when a talented young black student named Monroe Work (1866-1945) came to campus and tried to enroll.4

President Boyd had taken a strong interest in Work after meeting him some time before at Arkansas City High School in Kansas. Work was a student there and Boyd an administrator. But the townsmen were upset, and President Boyd thought it unwise to press the issue. Suffice it to say Professor Rice left the university at the end of that school year. On Work’s behalf, however, President Boyd contacted William Rainey Harper, the first president of the University of Chicago.

Work went there and earned a B.A. in philosophy in 1902 and an M.A. in sociology in 1903, at which point Boyd tried without success to interest Work in becoming the second president of Langston University.  Langston University’s first president was Inman Page (1853-1935).6 Page was one of the first African Americans to graduate from Brown University. After years of service to Langston University, he became principal of the Frederick Douglass High School in Oklahoma City. One of the students he impressed at Douglass was Ralph Ellison, another of Oklahoma’s native sons, who was born in Oklahoma City in 1914. Ellison saw Page as a culture bearer—one who implanted the ideals of “New England Education out in the territory.”7

Langston University opened its doors in September of 1898 as a consequence of Plessy v. Ferguson. Amid much controversy the school maintained a classical program (that “New England education” mentioned by Ellison) until the 1920s. Serving at various points during these years in the Classical Languages Department were five faculty members: Moses J. Ferguson was the first, followed by William E. Guy, Gilbert Jones, S. L. Hargrove and Peter Meiggs.

 They taught Plautus, Cicero, Horace, Vergil, Juvenal, Tacitus, Xenophon and Plato, along with various history classes, until the clamor for industrial education and growing interest in the modern languages gained the upper hand.8

Oklahoma is famous for another native son, John Hope Franklin (1915-2009). His father, Buck Colbert Franklin, was an attorney, farmer, newspaper editor and postmaster, and his mother, Mollie, taught school. Early in 1921 Mr. Franklin moved to Tulsa; his wife and children were to follow him a short time later. But their plans were undone by the Tulsa race riot of 1921, which occurred on the very week that young Franklin, his mother, and his sister arrived. Their new home was destroyed, and the family lived apart for four years—events that left a deep impression upon the young boy. After graduating from Tulsa’s Booker T. Washington High School in 1931, Franklin went on to Fisk University and to Harvard University, where he earned a master’s degree and doctorate in history. After a distinguished career at Brooklyn College, the University of Chicago and Duke University, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1995.

Let me tell you how he got his name. He was named after a black man who valued Greek and Latin as much as we do. This is John Hope (1868–1936). Born in Augusta, Georgia, he was the son of James Hope, a white Scottish immigrant and wealthy businessman, and Mary Frances Butts, a free black woman. Interracial marriage was prohibited in Georgia, but the couple lived together as man and wife. Sad to say after James Hope died in 1876, his executors failed to carry out his instructions to provide for Mary Frances and her children. And although the family belonged to the black elite, they entered a period of struggle. Hope himself could have passed for white, but he was proud to identify with his black heritage.

As a youth he was taught to love the classics by Lucy Laney, a black educator from Macon and a graduate of Atlanta University’s normal school, class of 1873.9 Hope was also inspired by John Wesley Gilbert (1864-1923), the first black professor at Augusta’s Paine College, who had earned an M.A. in ancient Greek at Brown University in 1891.

The year before Gilbert had been the first black student to attend the American School of Classical Studies.10 After some years of struggle, Hope won a scholarship to Worcester Academy in Massachusetts, and studied Greek and Latin with the school’s headmaster, Mr. Abercrombie.11

[Reverend Daniel Webster] Abercrombie, a Brown University trustee, helped Hope join Brown’s class of 1894, and there Hope continued his work in classics under Albert Harkness and John Larkin Lincoln. Upon graduation he joined the faculty of Roger Williams University, a small black liberal arts college in Nashville, Tennessee where he taught Greek, Latin, and science. In 1898 Hope moved to Atlanta and became professor of classics at Atlanta Baptist College (now Morehouse College, Martin Luther King’s alma mater). He taught his students to see in ancient texts guides for living.

One former student, Dr. Charles D. Hubert, said that “in his Greek classes,” Hope “taught everything from Homer to table manners,” and he could be “stern as Caesar and tender as a mother.”12 Hope quoted from or alluded to classical texts throughout his life. In a speech at Spelman, a private liberal arts college for black women, he asked the young women to compare Penelope with Lady Churchill.13  On another occasion when star athletes at Atlanta Baptist College refused to play against Atlanta University, he reminded them of the Trojans, saying: “The sons of Priam will greatly rejoice when they know that the two far-famed Achaeans are at war with each other.”14 We recognize the source of Hope’s warning as lines I. 255-57 from the Iliad. Later in life, Hope was especially thrilled when he was able to visit Rome and Athens and see the Hellespont.15

In 1906 he was appointed Morehouse College’s first black president. In 1929 after Morehouse, Spelman College, and Atlanta University affiliated with each other, Hope was unanimously chosen to be president of Atlanta University and held the position until his death in February of 1936. Just days before his death, he was here in Oklahoma City, attending the Oklahoma State Teachers Association, whose president was one of his favorite students, W. E. Anderson. He stayed at the home of Dr. A. I. Davis, visited with the parent of John Hope Franklin in Tulsa and spent a morning with Roscoe Dunjee, whose father Reverend John Dungee had helped Hope find funds for school when Hope was a child in Georgia.16 Dunjee was well known in Oklahoma as the editor of the Black Dispatch from 1915 to 1965, and in 1948 he led the legal battle to integrate the University of Oklahoma.17

In Atlanta University Hope had a school whose connections with classics ran deep. Atlanta University was the first institution of higher learning established for blacks in the state of Georgia. It opened its doors in 1869 during the period according to Booker T. Washington when two ambitions were “constantly agitating the minds of colored people”—to hold political office and to master Greek and Latin.18 Washington, however, said this in ridicule.19 At no time in his life did he support the teaching of classics to blacks. Race prejudice loomed large and many did not believe that blacks could or should be educated beyond the menial level. Well known was the comment credited to John C. Calhoun: “If you can show me a Negro who has mastered the Greek syntax, then I’ll believe he has a soul.”20

With statements like this one in the air, Atlanta University’s faculty and staff were determined to offer a classical curriculum and their students were determined to master the subjects. The first pupil to complete Atlanta University’s roster of classical courses was William Sanders Scarborough. By 1869 he had taken all the courses Atlanta University had to offer. Born in slavery in Macon, Georgia he had studied in secret before the Civil War with helpers black and white. He was the most advanced student at the school, and in fact the only member of the senior class of 1869. Since Atlanta University would not graduate its first college class until 1876, there was no point in waiting until his classmates could catch up with him.

And so in 1870 he matriculated at Oberlin College and earned his B.A. and M.A. degrees there. He was a member of the American Philological Association for forty-four years, author of a Greek textbook published in New York City in 1881, and the first black member of the Modern Language Association. I am delighted to tell you that he received a notice asking him to join CAMWS when we first organized.21 Another student at Atlanta University who completed the classical course was William Henry Crogman (1841-1931) who belonged to the American Philological Association for thirty-two years.22 He taught Greek for forty years at Clark College in Atlanta. His daughter Charlotte also taught classical languages at the school.

Crogman was both scholar and leader—he was co-founder of the American Negro Academy and steered Clark through the Atlanta race riots of 1906.

Both men were friends with fellow student Richard Robert Wright, Sr. (c.1853-1947). By now it should be no surprise to you to learn that Wright also entered eagerly into the study of Greek and Latin. After graduation with Atlanta University’s first class in 1876, a group of six young men who were the first black students to earn a B.A. in the state of Georgia, he spent more than four decades as an educator in the state. Wright was a remarkable man who lived to be ninety-four. He was as resourceful as Ulysses and always able to think on his feet.

Wright was born in slavery around 1853. Suffice it to say, times were very tough, but his mother and he knew the value of school and so he made his way to Atlanta University with a the goal of studying Greek with Reverend Cyrus W. Francis (1838-1916), who had earned his B.D. at Yale University in 1867.23 From the start, Wright and his fellow students were closely scrutinized. At one point—while still a student—Wright’s name was mentioned in regard to a summer teaching job in Wilkes County, Georgia.

He was summoned to the Hall of Representatives at the state capitol in Atlanta for an oral examination. His performance in Greek and Latin was more than adequate, stunning the crowd. Among his examiners was former Confederate General Robert Toombs. Toombs was a bitter foe of higher education for blacks, and impressed with Wright but still opposed, gave Wright a fifty cent piece towards the cost of an industrial education. Wright kept the coin as a souvenir before giving it to the President of Atlanta University years later.24  For the next fifteen years, Wright supervised the operation of two high schools in Georgia. These were Ware High School in Augusta and Howard Normal School in Cuthbert. When Wright left in 1890 to become the first president of the Georgia State Industrial College for Negro Youth in Savannah, his position was taken by Fletcher Hamilton Henderson, Sr. (1857-1943).

Thirteen years earlier, Henderson had been studying at the University of South Carolina and had passed his Greek exam in June of 1877, when the state suddenly reversed its laws on integration. Henderson was forced to leave the school, and so at great sacrifice the family went to Atlanta so he could complete his degree at Atlanta University.25A model of discipline and learning, Professor Henderson made his school in Cuthbert into one of the best black schools in Georgia.

His namesake, Fletcher Henderson Muse, recalled: “Anyone who thought Latin was a dead language changed their minds when Fess walked in to the classroom.”26 For those of us with an interest in twentieth century music, you may recognize the name—for Henderson’s son, Fletcher Hamilton “Smack” Henderson, Jr. (1897-1952), after graduating from college and finding no jobs for black chemists in New York City, turned to music. He developed one of the earliest “Big Bands” and was a pioneer of “swing” music.

While we are on the topic of music, it may interest you to know that the first black record company was founded by Harry Pace (1884-1943). Pace, valedictorian of Atlanta University’s class of 1903, had taught Greek and Latin at the Lincoln Institute in Jefferson City, Missouri for two years before founding his company. Wright was president and professor of Latin at Georgia State College (today Savannah State) from 1891 to 1920.27 He was firmly committed to higher education and his work to maintain a classical curriculum was often assailed. A former student recalled a visit that one of the school’s commissioners, Otto Ashmore, paid to Wright’s Latin class in the 1890s. Ashmore listened for a while and, as he left the room, said: “Wright, I want you to cut this Latin out and teach these boys to farm.” In reply Wright said that the students “were learning to farm, but he didn’t see why they couldn’t learn a little Vergil too.”

Infuriated, Ashmore immediately contacted the president of the school’s Board of Trustees, Peter Meldrim.28 Controversy raged. The editor of the Savannah Tribune said that the school should offer “less Greek and Latin and provide more instruction in the trades.”29 Wright’s son, R. R. Wright, Jr. (1878-1967) who graduated from Georgia State in 1898 described the outcome: “I shall never forget the profound impression made upon the students when President W. told us the decision of the Commissioners to drop Latin and Greek. He begged us not to leave the college.”

He stated that “the teachers had agreed to give us lessons in the forbidden courses at night and in the afternoon. Consequently for more than a year, I studied calculus and the Greek and Latin poets, Sophocles, Homer, Horace, and Ovid, as extracurricular activities in the homes of my teachers, who taught in their extra time although they received no compensation. So surprised was the Commission at the sincere interest and persistence of both the students and the teachers that the classics were restored to the regular curriculum.”30

And when orders came in 1903 down to end all courses in classics, Wright still managed to keep the requirements in place.31 From 1910 to 1921, Wright “continued his fight to maintain academic standards” and “secretly provided lessons in Latin, Greek, and higher mathematics as well as other courses objected to by the Commission.”32 Like John Hope, Wright was thrilled to travel abroad and see the Colosseum, Pompeii and Mt. Vesuvius. He quoted Cicero aloud while standing in the Roman Forum.33

 Remember Monroe Work, President Boyd’s nominee for the presidency of Langston University in 1903? Well, he came to the attention of R. R. Wright, Sr. Work accepted Wright’s offer to teach at Georgia State, which he did from 1903 to 1907 before moving to the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama where he spent the rest of his career.

In 1909 Wright’s son married William Crogman ’s daughter Charlotte (1879-1959). She had received a masters degree in education from Clark College, and attended the University of Chicago while her husband was there earning his M.A. She had been a teacher of English and Latin at the Haines Institute in Augusta, Georgia, and of Greek and Latin at Clark until her marriage. The couple moved to Philadelphia where Wright earned his doctorate in sociology at the University of Pennsylvania in 1911. In 1921 R.R. Wright, Sr. retired and joined his son in Philadelphia. Soon after his arrival in Philadelphia, he founded the Citizens and Southern Bank, of which he was president until his death in 1947. His daughter-in-law Charlotte Crogman Wright, now a homemaker, did battle in Philadelphia so that her daughter Ruth could take Latin. Ruth’s father described what happened in his memoirs.

A “recollection I have was when Ruth’s advisor in West Philadelphia High School refused to approve her registration for a course in Latin. The advisor told her that Latin was ‘absolutely out of the question’ and that she should not think of going to college. The advisor recommended home economics, where there was employment opportunity, and said that was final. Ruth’s mother went to the school and informed the advisor that it was not only Ruth’s desire but that of Ruth’s parents that Ruth study Latin. The advisor was emphatic, saying that it was a waste of time and that her mother should talk her out of the notion. ‘There is no opportunity for a colored girl to teach Latin,’ she said. Mrs. Wright told her that both of Ruth’s grandfathers had taught Latin and Greek for a total of over sixty-five years; that Ruth’s father had taught Latin and that her mother was teaching Latin when she married, [and] that nobody in Ruth’s family had been a domestic servant for three generations. This called for a long conversation on Ruth’s personal background of which the advisor had never inquired. . . The advisor and Mrs. Wright became good friends, the advisor admitting that Ruth had a better scholastic background than she, the advisor, had. Ruth studied Latin, was elected a member of the National Honor Society, and won a scholarship to the University of Penn and a state scholarship to the same institution.” 34

In her autobiography, Ruth said that she spent her high school and college days “studying hard to become a teacher of Latin and English in a Philadelphia secondary school.” She said: “I was assigned to do my practice teaching at a segregated junior high school in Chester, a small blue-collar town outside Philadelphia. Twice a week for three months I taught Latin to ninth-grade students.

I had no problems except the big one: why did I have to travel to another town for a required part of my degree at the University of Pennsylvania when white fellow students went just a few blocks to [teach at] West Philadelphia High? I graduated with a B.S, in Education in three and half years. Ruth hoped “to take the examination for a high school teaching job until a family friend showed me a letter from the personnel office of the Philadelphia School District.

It read:

There is no reason to apply for a position in the secondary schools of the Philadelphia School District. At present there are no positions for colored persons.35

Ruth then accepted a job teaching English and Latin at the Arkansas State College for Negroes in Pine Bluff, which she held for two years. She later recalled: “If ever there was an enthusiastic and dedicated teacher, it was little Miss Wright. I taught five English classes a day—grades nine through twelve—and one small Latin class. Many professional parents had insisted their children take Latin.”36 Ruth lived frugally in Arkansas and she saved enough money for a trip to Europe. “I was steeped in the Latin language [and t] he wonders and beauties of Italy and its ancient heritage [were to] be the capstone of my journey.”37 In 1940, ten years after policies of segregation had kept her from even applying to teach in Philadelphia, she took the National Teacher Examination. This was a seven hour test and Ruth was one of two thousand other applicants.

“I scored a respectable 781 out of a possible 900 [and t]hat summer I passed the qualifying tests for English and Latin teaching positions.”38 In 1949 Ruth Wright Hayre earned a doctorate in education from the University of Pennsylvania and went on to distinguish herself by becoming the first full-time African American teacher in Philadelphia’s public school system, the first African American senior high school principal, and the first woman president of the Philadelphia Board of Education.39 But eighty years before this and before Oklahoma became a state, her grandfather R. R. Wright, Sr. responded to a question posed by General Otis Oliver Howard at the Storrs’ School in Atlanta in the fall of 1868. This school, a precursor of Atlanta University was the successor to the Box Car (a.k.a. Car-Box school) which had opened in 1863 in a railroad car that the American Missionary Association had brought from Tennessee.

General Howard, who was the Commissioner of the Freedmen’s Bureau, was visiting the Sunday school class at the Storrs School. Atlanta University’s young students were there; William Sanders Scarborough was as well. General Howard looked out and asked them what he should tell the children in the North about them. “Wearing a clean white jacket,” little R. R. Wright stood up and said: “Tell them we are rising!”40

John Greenleaf Whittier soon after immortalized Wright’s response in his poem “Howard at Atlanta” (1869) with this line: “They are rising, all are rising / the black and white together.”

Today when we consider Maya Angelou’s poem “And Still I Rise” (1978), and read these lines:

You may write me down in history

With your bitter, twisted lies

You may trod me in the very dirt

But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

we hear the resounding echo of a man who appreciated the classics as much as we do.41

He taught them, fought for them and raised a family with the same values. And so I say to you tonight: “Hats off to Richard Robert Wright, Sr. and his valiant classical colleagues, in whom we can and should take great pride!”

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1 Watts (2002) 9.

2 Wade-Lewis (2007) 325.

3 Ronnick (2002a) 108-109.

4 Levy (2005) 49, 50, 53. For more on Work see Guzman (1949) 428-61.

5 Levy (2005) 51.

6 Patterson (1979) 26-34.

7 Ellison (1986) 115-16.

8 Patterson (1979) 77, 213-6.

9 Torrence  (1948) 10, 35, 54, 47.

10 Torrence (1948) 57-8; Ronnick (2001) 113-4.

11 Torrence (1948) 76.

12 Torrence (1948) 129, 138.

13 Torrence (1948) 144.

14 Torrence (1948) 131.

15 Torrence (1948) 178-79, 267, 286.

16 Davis (1998) 336-7.

17 McKellips (2000) 142-51.

18 Washington (1891) 80.

19 Ronnick (2002b) 59-70.

20 Ronnick (2005) 342-3 n. 29.

21 Ronnick (2002c) 263-6. For more on his career see Ronnick(2005) and Ronnick (2006).

22 Ronnick (2000) 67-8.

23 Haynes (1952) 32, 33, 45, 48.

24 Haynes (1952) 53-4.

25 Magee (2004) 15.

26 Magee (2004) xi, 16.

27 Haynes (1952) 72.

28 Haynes (1952) 90; Patton (1980) 572-4.

29 Patton (1980) 583.

30 Wright (1965) 36.

31 Patton (1980) 562-3.

32 Patton (1980) 613-4.

33 Haynes (1952) 146-7.

34 Wright (1965) 141-2.

35 Hayre (1997) 36.

36 Hayre (1997) 39-40.

37 Hayre (1997) 44.

38 Hayre (1997) 49, 50, 52.

39 Hayre (1997) 58, 56-7, 81.

40 Adams (1930) 9 n. 6.

41 Angelou read a variation of this poem, titled “Still We Rise,” at the Million Man March held on October 16, 1995 in Washington, D.C.

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Works Cited

Adams, Myron W. 1930. A History of Atlanta University. Atlanta.

Davis, Leroy. 1998. A Clashing of the Soul: John Hope and the Dilemma of African American Leadership and Black Higher Education in the Early Twentieth Century. Athens, GA.: University of Georgia Press.

Ellison, Ralph. 1986. Going to the Territory. New York.

Guzman, Jessie P. 1949. “Monroe Nathan Work and His Contributions: Background and Preparation for Life’s Career.” Journal of Negro History 34: 428-61.

Haynes, Elizabeth Ross. 1952. The Black Boy of Atlanta. Boston: House of Edinboro.

Hayre, Ruth Wright and Alexis Moore. 1999. Tell Them We Are Rising: A Memoir of Faith in Education. New York.; Wiley.

Levy, David W. 2005. The University of Oklahoma: A History, Volume I, 1890-1917. Norman, OK.: University of Oklahoma Press.

Magee, Jeffrey. 2004. The Uncrowned King of Swing: Fletcher Henderson and Big Band Jazz. Oxford. Oxford University Press.

McKellips, Karen. 2000. “Roscoe Dunjee Versus the Pill-Peddler President: Politics, the Black Press and Langston University.” Journal of the Philosophy and History of Education 50: 142-51.

Patterson, Zella Black. 1979. Langston University: A History. Norman, OK.

Patton, June O. 1980. “Major Richard Robert Wright, Sr., and Black Higher Education in Georgia, 1880-1920.”Diss. Chicago.

Ronnick, Michele Valerie. 2000. “William Henry Crogman (1865-1930).” CO 77: 67.

——. 2001. “John Wesley Gilbert (c.1865-1923).” CO 78: 113-4.

——. 2002a. “Wiley Lane.” CO 79: 108-9.

——. 2002b. “William Sanders Scarborough (1852-1926) and the Early Days of CAMWS.” CJ 97: 263-6.

——. 2002c. “A Look at Booker T. Washington’s Attitude Toward the Study of Greek and Latin by People of African Ancestry.” Negro Educational Review 53:59-70.

——. 2005. The Autobiography of William Sanders Scarborough: An American Journey from Slavery to  Scholarship.  Detroit.

——. 2006. The Works of William Sanders Scarborough: Black Classicist and Race Leader. Oxford.

Torrence, Ridgely. 1948. The Story of John Hope. New York.

Wade-Lewis, Margaret. 2007. Lorenzo Dow Turner, Father of Gullah Studies. Columbia, SC.

Washington, Booker T. 1891. Up From Slavery. New York.

Watts, Julius Caesar. 2002. What Color is a Conservative? My Life and My Politics. With Chriss Anne Winston. New York.: HarperCollins.

Wright, Jr., Richard R. 1965. 87 Years Behind the Black Curtain: An Autobiography. Philadelphia.

Michele Valerie Ronnick is Professor in the Department of Classics, Greek and Latin at Wayne State University. A Latinist by training with a book on Cicero's Stoic Paradoxes, she has published widely in journals here and abroad and has won a number of professional awards for excellence in scholarship, teaching and service on regional and national levels. Ronnick's special interest in the Classical Tradition led her to open up a new subfield of reception studies, Classica Africana, a.k.a. black classicism, which examines the influence of classics upon the creative and professional lives of people of African descent.

She is the editor of a critical edition of The Autobiography of William Sanders Scarborough.

*   *   *   *   *

The Classical Association of the Middle West and South, Inc.[CAMWS], is a professional organization for classicists and non-classicists at all levels of instruction which promotes the Classics through the broad scope of its annual meeting, through the publication of both original research and pedagogical contributions in The Classical Journal, and through its awards, scholarships, and outreach initiatives.CAMWS

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The Works of William Sanders Scarborough

Black Classicist and Race Leader

Edited by Michele Valerie Ronnick

The first professional classicist of African American descent, William Sanders Scarborough (1852-1926) rose from slavery to become president of Wilberforce University in Ohio. Excelling at Latin and Greek, he crossed the color line both socially and intellectually with his entry into a field of study commonly seen as elitist and dominated by white men. Although unknown to classicists today, Scarborough had a distinguished career in the field and held membership in many learned societies and had an active publication record. His life as an engaged intellectual, public citizen, and concerned educator was admired and emulated by W. E. B. Du Bois.

This collection, which spans a half a century from the end of Reconstruction through the vagaries of World War I and the rise of Jim Crow, gives us a window we have not had before into the challenges and ambiguities of this period.

As a committed intellectual, concerned educator and loyal citizen, he served as an ambassador to and for his race to several generations of people both in the U.S. and abroad. In Scarborough's writings we have a portrait of a man whose struggle for physical and intellectual freedom can inform us all.

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The Autobiography of William Sanders Scarborough

An American Journey from Slavery to Scholarship

Edited with an Introduction by Michelle Valerie Ronnick

This illuminating autobiography traces Scarborough's path out of slavery in Macon, Georgia, to a prolific scholarly career that culminated with his presidency of Wilberforce University. Despite the racism he encountered as he struggled to establish a place in higher education for African Americans, Scarborough was an exemplary scholar, particularly in the field of classical studies. He was the first African American member of the Modern Language Association, a forty-four-year member of the American Philological Association, and a true champion of higher education.

Michele Valerie Ronnick contextualizes Scarborough's narrative through extensive notes and by exploring a wide variety of sources such as census records, church registries, period newspapers, and military and university records.

This book is indispensable to anyone interested in the history of intellectual endeavor in America, Africana Studies, and classical studies as well as those familiar with the associations and institutions that welcomed and valued Scarborough.

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Howard at Atlanta

                  By John Greenleaf Whittier


Right in the track where Sherman
Ploughed his red furrow,
Out of the narrow cabin,
Up from the cellar's burrow,
Gathered the little black people,
With freedom newly dowered,
Where, beside their Northern teacher,
Stood the soldier, Howard.

He listened and heard the children
Of the poor and long-enslaved
Reading the words of Jesus,
Singing the songs of David.
Behold! —the dumb lips speaking,
The blind eyes seeing!
Bones of the Prophet's vision
Warmed into being!

Transformed he saw them passing
Their new life's portal
Almost it seemed the mortal
Put on the immortal.
No more with the beasts of burden,
No more with stone and clod,
But crowned with glory and honor
In the image of God!

There was the human chattel
Its manhood taking;
There, in each dark, bronze statue,
A soul was waking!
The man of many battles,
With tears his eyelids pressing,
Stretched over those dusky foreheads
His one-armed blessing.

And he said: "Who hears can never
Fear for or doubt you;
What shall I tell the children
Up North about you?"
Then ran round a whisper, a murmur,
Some answer devising:
And a little boy stood up: "General,
Tell 'em we're rising!"

O black boy of Atlanta!
But half was spoken
The slave's chain and the master's
Alike are broken.
The one curse of the races
Held both in tether
They are rising, —all are rising,
The black and white together!

O brave men and fair women!
Ill comes of hate and scorning
Shall the dark faces only
Be turned to mourning?—
Make Time your sole avenger,
All-healing, all-redressing;
Meet Fate half-way, and make it
A joy and blessing!


*   *   *   *   *


Still I Rise

               By Maya Angelou

You may write me down in history

With your bitter, twisted lies,

You may trod me in the very dirt

But still, like dust, I'll rise.


Does my sassiness upset you?

Why are you beset with gloom?

'Cause I walk like I've got oil wells

Pumping in my living room.


Just like moons and like suns,

With the certainty of tides,

Just like hopes springing high,

Still I'll rise.


Did you want to see me broken?

Bowed head and lowered eyes?

Shoulders falling down like teardrops,

Weakened by my soulful cries?


Does my haughtiness offend you?

Don't you take it awful hard

'Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines

Diggin' in my own backyard.


You may shoot me with your words,

You may cut me with your eyes,

You may kill me with your hatefulness,

But still, like air, I'll rise.


Does my sexiness upset you?

Does it come as a surprise

That I dance like I've got diamonds

At the meeting of my thighs?


Out of the huts of history's shame

I rise

Up from a past that's rooted in pain

I rise

I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,

Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.


Leaving behind nights of terror and fear

I rise

Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear

I rise

Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,

I am the dream and the hope of the slave.

I rise

I rise

I rise.

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#1 - Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable
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*   *   *   *   *

Salvage the Bones

A Novel by Jesmyn Ward

On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family that’s about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrina’s inexorable winds is the voice of Ward’s narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her family’s raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brother’s “blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt.” Her father’s hands “are like gravel,” while her own hand “slides through his grip like a wet fish,” and a handsome boy’s “muscles jabbered like chickens.” Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isn’t usually just metaphor for metaphor’s sake. She conveys something fundamental about Esch’s fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, what’s salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.—WashingtonPost

*   *   *   *   *

Hopes and Prospects

By Noam Chomsky

In this urgent new book, Noam Chomsky surveys the dangers and prospects of our early twenty-first century. Exploring challenges such as the growing gap between North and South, American exceptionalism (including under President Barack Obama), the fiascos of Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S.-Israeli assault on Gaza, and the recent financial bailouts, he also sees hope for the future and a way to move forward—in the democratic wave in Latin America and in the global solidarity movements that suggest "real progress toward freedom and justice." Hopes and Prospects is essential reading for anyone who is concerned about the primary challenges still facing the human race. "This is a classic Chomsky work: a bonfire of myths and lies, sophistries and delusions. Noam Chomsky is an enduring inspiration all over the world—to millions, I suspect—for the simple reason that he is a truth-teller on an epic scale. I salute him." —John Pilger

In dissecting the rhetoric and logic of American empire and class domination, at home and abroad, Chomsky continues a longstanding and crucial work of elucidation and activism . . .the writing remains unswervingly rational and principled throughout, and lends bracing impetus to the real alternatives before us.—
Publisher's Weekly

*   *   *   *   *

The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

*   *   *   *   *

Ancient African Nations

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posted 12 March 2011




Home  Wilson Jeremiah Moses Table 

Related  files: The Autobiography of William Sanders Scarborough   The Works of William Sanders Scarborough  Practice and Perception of Black Classicism  Celebrating Alexander Crummell  

Classicism within Black Consciousness   Frank Snowden Now An Ancestor  Introduction: Bibliography of the Negro   Table of Contents:  Bibliography of the Negro  Preface: Bibliography of the Negro