UNCA’s Blowers Gallery hosts exhibitions on Black Classicists and Cherokee Language and Culture

North Carolina native Helen Chesnutt, scholar of Latin who became Langston Hughes’ teacher, is one of those featured in 14 Black Classicists, an exhibition at UNC Asheville’s Ramsey Library.
North Carolina native Helen Chesnutt, scholar of Latin who became Langston Hughes’ teacher, is one of those featured in 14 Black Classicists, an exhibition at UNC Asheville’s Ramsey Library.

Press release from UNC Asheville:

Blowers Gallery in UNC Asheville’s Ramsey Library is now featuring two concurrent exhibitions – 14 Black Classicists: A Photo Installation, on black scholars of the post-Civil War era, and Understanding Our Past, Shaping our Future, on Cherokee language and culture. These exhibitions are free and open to everyone during regular library hours, through Feb. 27.

A reception from 5-6 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 8 in the gallery will feature the creator of the 14 Black Classists exhibit – Michele Valerie Ronnick, Wayne State University professor of classical and modern languages, literatures and cultures. Ronnick will also present a lecture, A Look at Black Classicism in North Carolina: From Wiley Lane (1852-1885) to Helen Maria Chesnutt (1880-1969), from 6:30-7:30 p.m. in the Ramsey Library Whitman Room. These events also are free and open to everyone.

The exhibit features photos and information about black scholars, largely neglected in modern histories, who taught Greek and Latin at the college or university level and whose academic accomplishments helped pave the way for future generations of African-Americans entering American universities. “With them,” says Ronnick, “begins the serious study and teaching of philology (the study of language) by African-Americans.”

Among those featured are William Sanders Scarborough, the first black member of the American Language Association and author of a Greek textbook, and two North Carolina natives – Wiley Lane, who became the first black professor of Greek at Howard University, and Helen Chesnutt, who, as a high school Latin teacher in Ohio, helped inspire her student Langston Hughes. She also was the daughter of novelist and essayist Charles Waddell Chesnutt. The exhibition’s creation was funded by the James Loeb Classical Library Foundation at Harvard University.

The Understanding Our Past, Shaping our Future exhibit uses sound recordings in Cherokee, with English translations, to present a picture of Cherokee language and culture, and insight into Cherokee identity. The recordings are excerpts of conversations triggered by historical photographs, and feature members of a Cherokee speakers group which meets weekly at the Kituwah Academy, the language immersion school on the Qualla Boundary. The exhibit’s 15 panels are organized around the themes of Cherokee homeland, heritage sites, tourism, family, and community celebrations.

A presentation and reception for the exhibit will take place in Ramsey Library’s Blowers Gallery on Feb. 13. The reception will be begin at 6:30 p.m. and be followed by an introductory talk by Barbara Duncan, education director at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian and UNC Asheville adjunct instructor in Cherokee, and a performance by Aniyvwiyahi Analsgisgi, a traditional Cherokee children’s dance group.

The Understanding Our Past, Shaping our Future touring exhibit was funded by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to the Eastern Band of Cherokee in partnership with the Chief Joyce Dugan Cultural Arts Center at Cherokee Central Schools.

These exhibitions are presented at UNC Asheville by its Center for Diversity Education and Ramsey Library. For library hours, visit http://library.unca.edu/about/hours.

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