The Read-In, held in conjunction with the National Council of Teachers of English, had a two-fold purpose: to encourage young African-Americans to read and to promote African-American authors. This year’s selected text was “The Autobiography of William Sanders Scarborough: An American Journey from Slavery to Scholarship.”
Scarborough was the first professional classicist of African descent, and his work paved the way for many younger scholars of color. In 1881, he made history by publishing a Greek textbook with A.S. Barnes in New York City, proving to the world that Black people also had the ability to master classical languages.
His early years were spent in slavery in Macon, Ga., where he saw Mississippi statesman and Confederate president Jefferson Davis led through the streets of Macon as a prisoner of war. After earning a B.A. and M.A. from Oberlin College, he joined the faculty at Wilberforce as a professor of ancient languages. In addition, he was the first black member of the Modern Language Association, which has given a $1,000 book prize in his honor since 2001. From 1908-1920 he was president of Wilberforce University and steered the school through the turmoil and vagaries of World War I.