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The Autobiography of William Sanders Scarborough

An American Journey from Slavery to Scholarship

Edited with an Introduction by Michele Valerie Ronnick
Foreword by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

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African American Studies, Autobiography, Biography, By WSU Faculty, Education

African American Life Series

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Published: December 2004
ISBN: 9780814332245
Pages: 448 Size: 6x9
Illustrations: 16 black and white images

Michele Valerie Ronnick is to be commended for making this compelling account available to a wide reading public.

— Valerie Smith

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 met 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. Scarborough advocated the reading, writing, and teaching of liberal arts at a time when illiteracy was rampant due to slavery’s legacy, white supremacists were dismissing the intellectual capability of blacks, and Booker T. Washington was urging African Americans to focus on industrial skills and training.

The Autobiography of William Sanders Scarborough is a valuable historical record of the life and work of a pioneer who helped formalize the intellectual tradition of the black scholar. 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, in particular, as well as those familiar with the associations and institutions that welcomed and valued Scarborough.

Michele Valerie Ronnick is professor of Greek and Latin at Wayne State University.

William Sanders Scarborough, a respected classicist when the classics represented the ultimate in learned knowledge, embodied the living refutation of white supremacy in the late nineteenth century. The twentieth century was all too quick to forget him. Michele Ronnick's edition of Scarborough's Autobiography brings him back to life, with all its promise, achievement, and frustration. We need to know it all."

– Nell Irvin Painter, Edwards Professor of American history, Princeton University

This autobiography presents to a new generation the career of William Sanders Scarborough, among the earliest black Ph.D.s. He was a precursor to W. E. B. Du Bois, and someone whom the famed intellectual admired and emulated. The complicated ties between Scarborough and the A.M.E. sponsored Wilberforce University showed that those who valued the life of the mind drew substantial support and encouragement from black religious and educational institutions. Scholars in the classics, history, African American Studies, and other subjects will find much relevant information in this valuable volume."

– Dennis C. Dickerson, professor of history, Vanderbilt University, historiographer of the A.M.E. Church

Expertly presented by Michele Valerie Ronnick, Scarborough's autobiography constitutes an important and timely contribution to the history of Classical Studies in America and to the story of African-American intellectual life in the century after Emancipation. Scarborough believed passionately that classical education was a critical component of African-American advancement and understood that a liberal education is liberating and the property of all free human beings."

– Jenny Strauss Clay, professor of classics, University of Virginia

This book emerges as an unambiguous exemplar of the rigor and vigor that is characterizing the African American nonfiction canon in this 21st century. Michele Ronnick has made a significant contribution to the African American nonfiction canon.

– Harry B. Dunbar, Dunbar on Black Books Online Review

This fascinating book tells the remarkable story of William Sanders Scarborough's rise from his origins in slavery to a distinguished career as the first African American professional scholar of classical languages and literatures. Michele Valerie Ronnick is to be commended for making this compelling account available to a wide reading public."

– Valerie Smith, Woodrow Wilson Professor of literature and director of the Program in African Ameriacn Studies, Princeton University

It is uplifting to discover in this fascinating life, so compellingly narrated, a refutation of the racist view that a black man was genetically incapable of learning Greek, and at the same so clearly to see precisely the effects of such learning on this likable and able man. Like the Roman poet Horace, he too the son of an ex-slave, Scarborough reveals to us a personality imbued with culture, humanism and compassion."

– Richard F. Thomas, professor of Greek and Latin, Harvard University, Trustee of the Loeb Classical Library, and author of Virgil and the Augustan Reception

Thanks to the book's editor - Michele Valerie Ronnick, an associate professor of Greek and Latin at Wayne State University - readers will finally hear this inspiring story that got lost in the annuals of history. Ronnick successfully revived a man, once a great leading classicist and scholar in her field to his rightful position among the great classicists (including Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois) of his time. Now readers will know the story of William Sanders Scarborough, the man with a penetrating stare who lived an extraordinary life. His story is a testament that the will of the human spirit can overcome just about any obstacle.

– Grand Rapids Press

The Autobiography of William Sanders Scarborough takes its rightful place amid the outstanding volumes of the publisher's African American Life series. Editor Ronnick has unearthed and meticulously edited this scholar's life story. For those with interest in African American, social, or cultural history, this book will be instructive.

– Choice Review

This book belongs on the shelf of every historian, student, scholar, and the general reader of American letters.

– Essex County Historical Society

It is difficult to find any flaws in this autobiography, which flows like a journal. Scarborough's autobiography should be required reading for all in the academy, especially those engaged in classical studies."

– The Griot: Journal of African American Studies

  • 2006 Outreach Prize from the American Philological Association - Result: Winner
  • 2006 Outreach Prize from the American Philological Association - Result: Winner