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2015: Classics, Black Colleges, and Civil Rights

By 1877, the official end of Reconstruction, twenty-five black colleges and universities had been established, mostly in the South. These institutions were created on the classical New England model, with the teaching of Greek and Latin at their core. Over the next four decades, however, there would be a concerted effort by the white educational establishment, philanthropic organizations, and black conservatives to halt the teaching of Greek and Latin. This colloquium will explore the reasons why the opponents of these institutions felt it dangerous for black students to learn Greek and Latin and the measures they took to eradicate these courses. More broadly, the colloquium will explore the tactics of defiance, resistance (both physical and mental), and dissemblance employed by black teachers, parents, and students to maintain the quality of their curriculum. Indeed, the lessons learned at black colleges and universities were not simply academic. They were life lessons of social uplift and civic empowerment.

The following lectures were presented:

  • Creating a "Culture of Dissemblance": African American Resistance to the Suppression of the Classics at Black Colleges and Universities, Dr. Kenneth Goings
  • "Tell Them We are Rising": The Formative and Subversive Role of the Classics at Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Dr. Eugene O'Connor
  • Performing Classics: The Black Body, Dr. Patrice Rankine
  • Black Carolinians and Classical Education - A Look at the Lives of Five Native Sons: Daniel Payne (1811-1893), Francis Cardozo (1837-1903), Cornelius Scott (1855-1922), William Bulkley (1861-1933) and Kelly Miller (1863-1939), Dr. Michele Ronnick

Dr. Kenneth Goings (Ohio State University) specializes in 19th-20th century African American History. His The NAACP Comes of Age and Mammy and Uncle Mose: Black Collectibles and American Stereotyping both won the Gustavus Myer’s Center’s Outstanding Book Award.

Dr. Eugene O’Connor is a managing and acquiring editor at The Ohio State University Press. His interests include Greek and Roman elegy and the reception of classics. He and Dr. Goings are at work on a book on African Americans and the classics from the 1870s to 1940s.

Dr. Patrice Rankine is the Dean for Arts and Humanities at Hope College. His interests include how modern authors, in particular African-American Literature, employ classical themes. His recent books include Aristotle and Black Drama: A Theater of Disobedience.

Dr. Michele Ronnick (Wayne State University), an award winning educator, is one of the leading biographers for 19th century African-American educators. She has published numerous articles and book chapters on the subject, including “Virgil in the Black American Experience.” 


Co-sponsored with the Program of African American Studies from Thursday, March 23 to Friday, March 24.