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  • Thinking with Rhetorical Figures:Performing Racial and Disciplinary Identities in Late-Nineteenth-Century America
  • Steven Mailloux (bio)

Thinkers will give an immortality to a people that neither wealth, nor industry, nor strength of arm, nor even virtue can procure for it.

W. S. Scarborough, The Educated Negro and His Mission

For practical benefit we are often about as much indebted to our enemies, as to our friends; as much to the men who hiss, as to those who applaud . . . . The Jim Crow minstrels have, in many cases, led the negro to the study of music; while the doubt cast upon the negro's tongue has sent him to the lexicon and grammar and to the study of Greek orators and orations.

Frederick Douglass, "Self-Made Men"

The first African-American member of the Modern Language Association had some difficulty attending the 1896 annual convention at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. William S. Scarborough later wrote of his experience: "I was refused accommodation at every leading hotel though I had brought my credentials as a member of the Association. I had letters from some of these same hotels asking my patronage. I was told the letters were simply sent to all members of the Association, not knowing my color, and they did not take colored guests. I had to undergo the humiliation and find an obscure room with scarcely a bowl and pitcher available" (qtd. in Ronnick, "William Sanders Scarborough" 1791). This was [End Page 695] neither the first nor the last time the distinguished educator and classical scholar found himself facing racist treatment outside a scholarly conference while being accepted and recognized inside its meeting halls. The previous year in the same city, Scarborough attended the annual convention of the American Philological Association (APA). On the second day, the session adjourned early so the participants could attend a reception at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Mather of Cleveland ("Proceedings 1895" xlii). At the dinner Milton W. Humphreys of the University of Virginia noticed that "Prof. Scarborough, the black negro from Wilberforce University, Ohio, was being entirely ignored by the negro waitress. The President and Vice-presidents happened to be standing in a group, and I called their attention to it, and they called Mather's. Scarborough was at once given his supper and duly waited on."1

A few years later at a New Jersey Methodist resort, Scarborough and his companion, both lay delegates to the London Methodist Ecumenical Conference, were refused service at a soda fountain. Scarborough wrote immediately to the New York Times, protesting the discriminatory treatment and commenting on the contradiction between religious doctrine and segregation practices: "This may be religion, but it is not Christianity." Writing in the third person, the author identified himself in the following way:

Prof. Scarborough . . . a graduate of Oberlin College, is a professor of Greek and Latin at Wilberforce University, Xenia, Ohio, and Vice President of the same. He is the author of a Greek textbook and of several classical and philological essays. . . . He is also a member of the American Philological Association, the American Archaeological Association, the American Social and Political Science Associations, the American Folk-Lore, Spelling Reform, and Modern Language Associations, and is one of the Vice Presidents of the American Negro Academy.

Scarborough continued: "I mention these facts simply to give the reader an idea of the standing of the parties mentioned. . . . They represent the best type of the negro people—a type that merits some consideration and respect—whether they receive it or not" ("Religion" 6). With these words, Scarborough identified as a professional scholar and an African American, as part of a discipline and representative of a race. These identifications, their historical performances and interrelations, form my central theme throughout this essay.

Although Scarborough joined many professional organizations, he identified himself primarily as a classical scholar and participated most consistently in the APA.2 Greek and, to a lesser extent, Roman culture were his scholarly interests. He worked on the texts in those [End Page 696] traditions and often thought with their greatest writers and orators. Through this thinking-in-public and his professional identification with scholarly disciplines, Scarborough performed his...


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