Rediscovering classicists

Exhibit showcases 12 black scholars and teachers whose work has faded since their time
Wednesday, October 8, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 12:43 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

Michele Ronnick’s loyalty to the late Meyer Reinhold — MU professor emeritus and, later, Ronnick’s Boston University dissertation adviser — caused her to bring her photo exhibition, “12 Black Classicists,” to MU on Tuesday.

“Because he was my teacher, I coined the term ‘classica Africana’ to describe the idea of black classicism,” Ronnick said, referring to Reinhold’s 1984 book “Classica Americana.”

Launching a show.

After a debut last month at the Detroit Public Library, Ronnick’s exhibit made its first university stop at MU on a two-year, 12-city, national tour.

Seven years ago, Ronnick, an associate professor at Wayne State University in Michigan, began writing footnotes for an autobiography of William Sanders Scarborough — in her view, the best-known black American classicist.

Working like an archaelolgist.

Through the course of her research, Ronnick discovered 11 other black scholars and teachers whose work has been forgotten.

“I am bringing them out like an archeological dig, pulling them from the rubble of history” she said.

The exhibition shows a dozen 30-inch- by-40-inch photos of the 12 people with accompanying biographies. On Tuesday, it attracted more than 150 students and other visitors to the Lloyd L. Gaines/Marian O’Fallon Oldham Black Culture Center, where it will hang for the rest of this month.

As part of the day’s events, Ronnick lectured on her subjects.

“It went really well,” said Amanda Clarence, the center’s director. “This event highlighted the educational achievements of blacks at a time when education was limited.”

Ronnick’s exhibition was made possible by a grant from Harvard’s Loeb Classical Library Foundation and the waiver of user fees by the institutions that own the photographs.

Revealing history.

MU student Tyler Altrup said that his Greek professor told their class about the event.

“I know nothing about the black classicists, so I thought this might be informative,” Altrup said.

Daniel Hooley, chairman of the classical studies department, helped Ronnick bring her exhibition to campus.

“We have a distorted view of American classical scholarship,” he said. “We think of it as beginning in early 18th century and until the middle 20th century being composed of whites.”

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