Black Classicists | Fifteen Portraits

March 1, 2018 – Fall 2018

Directions and Visitor Information

About the Exhibition

This historic exhibition celebrates the important role of African Americans in the field of Classics, and provides a unique opportunity to reflect upon the purpose of higher education and its place in the struggle for equality and human enrichment.

The study of Greek and Latin was the curricular foundation of education for many centuries, both in the US and abroad. In the aftermath of the American Civil War, people of African descent, “hungry for the bread of knowledge” to quote Frederick Douglass, also wanted to learn Greek and Latin. Many institutions responded to this need; nearby Howard University played a key role and from its inception offered a range of classes, which enabled African American students to study ancient languages.

The African American men and women featured in this exhibition taught Greek and Latin at the college or university level and made groundbreaking achievements in education. Their academic accomplishments bolstered a new tradition of black intellectualism and resulted in greater opportunities for future generations of African Americans entering American colleges and universities.

The classicists in order of display are Wiley Lane (1852-1885), Helen Maria Chestnut (1880-1969), William Sanders Scarborough (1852-1926), John Wesley Edward Bowen (1855-1933), John Wesley Gilbert (1864-1923), Frazelia Campbell (1849-1930), William Henry Crogman (1841-1931), Reuben Shannon Lovinggood (1864-1916), Edward Wilmot Blyden (1832-1912), Lewis Baxter Moore (1866-1928), Richard Theodore Greener (1844-1922), George Morton Lightfoot (1868-1947), Daniel Barclay Williams (1861-1895), James Monroe Gregory (1849-1915), and William Lewis Bulkley (1867-1933).



Black Classicists was organized by Michele Valerie Ronnick, Professor of Classical and Modern Languages, Literatures, and Cultures at Wayne State University and was funded by two grants from the James Loeb Classical Library Foundation at Harvard University.

The exhibition was brought to the Center for Hellenic Studies by Caroline Stark, Assistant Professor of Classics, Howard University, thanks to a Leadership Initiative Grant from the Classical Association of the Atlantic States and through the generosity of the Center for Hellenic Studies.