- William Sanders Scarborough
William Sanders Scarborough (
February 16, 1852- September 9, 1926) is generally thought to be the first African American classical scholar. Scarborough served as president of Wilberforce Universitybetween 1908 and 1920 after having been born into slavery. He wrote a popular university textbook in Classical Greek which was widely used in the 19th century.
Early life and career
Scarborough was born in
Macon, Georgia, in 1852 to a free railway employee and a slave mother. He inherited his mother's status. Despite prohibitions against educating slaves, he was educated surreptitiously and had mastered the three R's, geography and grammar by the age of 10. He became an apprentice shoemaker and served as the secretary of a prominent black association at an early age due to his level of education.
After the end of the
American Civil War, he was able to complete his education at Lewis High Schoolin Macon before attending Atlanta Universityfor a couple of years. Scarborough completed his degree at Oberlin Collegegraduating in 1875. He then returned to Lewis High School as a teacher in classical languages where he met his future wife Sarah Bierce who was the Principal. Arsonists torched the Lewis High School in 1876 and the local fire brigade let it burn to the ground. Scarborough briefly became the Principal of the Payne Institutein Cokesburg, South Carolinabut found the racial environment in South Carolina even less hospitable than Georgia. He then returned to Oberlin to complete a Masters Degree.
Scarborough became a professor in the classical department at Wilberforce University in
Wilberforce, Ohioin 1877. He married Bierce who had previously been a white divorcee and missionary in 1881 and she also became a teacher at Wilberforce. Professor Scarborough also published a popular Classical Greek textbook "First Lessons in Greek" in 1881 and became the first Postmaster in Wilberforce the same year. A second book, "Birds of Aristophanes" followed in 1886.
Scarborough was one of the first African American members to join prestigious academic associations being the first member of the
Modern Language Associationand the third member of the American Philological Association. The Modern Language Associationhas named a first-book prize in his honor.
Despite his prominence as a scholar, Scarborough suffered the effects of discrimination throughout his career. In 1909 when he had just become the President of Wilberforce, he was barred from attending an
American Philological Associationmeeting in Baltimore, Marylandbecause the hotel refused to serve dinner if he was present and was threatening to sue for breach of contract if the Association cancelled the Conference. The paper that he was due to read at the conference was read by someone else. However, in 1892, Scarborough gave a lecture on Plato at the University of Virginiawith pictures of Jefferson Davisand other confederate leaders on the walls and no other African Americans allowed into the room except as servants.
In 1908, Scarborough was appointed as President of Wilberforce University serving in that position until 1920. Wilberforce University was the African American college and Scarborough was considered one of the leading African American scholars. As such, he published a number of papers on Negro education as well as his works on classical languages.
In 1921, President Harding appointed Scarborough to a position in the
United States Department of Agriculturewhich he occupied until his death. He was working on an autobiography which wasn't published during his lifetime. However, Michele Ronnick, full Professor in the Classics Department of Wayne State Universityfound a copy of the manuscript in the archives of the Ohio Historical Society. Ronnick edited "The Autobiography of William Sanders Scarborough: An American Journey From Slavery to Scholarship" which was published in 2005 by Wayne State University Press with a foreword by Henry Louis Gates.
*"First Lessons in Greek" 1881
*"Birds of Aristophanes" 1886
*"The Autobiography of William Sanders Scarborough: An American Journey From Slavery to Scholarship" (Unpublished during his lifetime)
* "William Saunders Scarborough". "Dictionary of American Biography Base Set". American Council of Learned Societies, 1928-1936.
* [http://www.toledoblade.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20050204/COLUMNIST17/502040324 Jack Lessenberry "Scarborough: An American Hero of the Mind" "Toledo Blade", published February 4, 2005, retrieved November 5, 2005]
* [http://aaregistry.com/african_american_history/65/Scholar_William_S_Scarborough_born African American Registry article on William Sanders Scarborough]
* [http://www.umich.edu/~urecord/0203/Feb17_03/04.shtml University of Michigan Press article February 17 2003 retrieved November 5 2005]
*Ronnick, M.V. (ed.) (2005) "The Autobiography of William Sanders Scarborough: An American Journey From Slavery to Scholarship", Wayne State University Press, ISBN 0-8143-3224-2
*Ronnick, M.V. (ed.) (2006) "The Works of William Sanders Scarborough: Black Classicist and Race Leader", Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0-19-530962-1
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