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African American Members of the Society for Classical Studies: A Census of Affiliations  (1875-1938)

Michele Valerie Ronnick

Wayne State University

“African American Members of the Society for Classical Studies: A Census of Affiliations  (1875-1938)”   

Formal efforts to recover the history of African American engagement with Greek and Latin on a national level began with the panel, “Classica Africana: The Graeco-Roman Heritage and People of Afro-American Descent,” which was organized by Michele Valerie Ronnick under the aegis of the Committee on the Classical Tradition and presented at the 97th meeting of the American Philological Association (APA) in New York City in December, 1996. Participants included: 1. Denise McCoskey, Miami University, “ ‘An Inclination for the Latin Tongue’ : The Classical Education of Phillis Wheatley,”  2. Shelley Haley, Hamilton College, “A Peculiar Triangle: Nineteenth Century Black American Women, ‘The Gentleman's Course,’ and the Civic Ideal,” 3. Michele Valerie Ronnick, Wayne State University, “William Sanders Scarborough: The First Professional Classicist of Afro-American Descent,”  4. Edmund Cueva, Xavier University, “The Medea of Countee Cullen,”  and 5. Joy King, University of Colorado, “An Incurably Perennial Student: Ruth Cave Flowers (Fairview H.S., Boulder, CO).”

Since then interest in this subfield of the classical tradition known as “classica  Africana” and  also “black classicism” has steadily grown. Not long ago a new group  named “Eos” was formed with the support of the Society for Classics Studies (SCS) that is devoted to research on Africana receptions of Greece and Rome (see  Research opportunities fall into two broad categories:  1. the  recovery and analysis of the historical record (the who, what, where, when, why and how) and 2. the analysis of classical themes and ideas as they appear in works of art and literature created by people of African descent.  The latter category relies heavily upon the former as accurate interpretation of creative aspects cannot be made be without an historical framework, and that includes having a thorough understanding of pedagogical and professional activities in the field of classics.  Helping to delineate this history was the pamphlet, The First Three African American Members of the American Philological Association, published by the APA in 2001. Happily enough further scrutiny into the record of African American affiliation with the APA has discovered more members,  and my paper will present brief portraits of the men and women who joined the APA after the original cadre, Richard Theodore Greener (1844-1922), Edward Wilmot Blyden (1832-1912) and  William Sanders Scarborough (1852-1926), became members between the years 1875-1882.

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From APA to SCS: 150 Years of Professional Classics in North America

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