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Genealogy search turned up scholar

Years ago, my genealogy search brought my attention to the early American Black scholar William H. Ferris. While we are not related, that surname is the same as my maternal grandfather’s family. Nothing more is here implied.

Ferris was born in New Haven, Conn., in 1874, to David H. Ferris and Sarah Ann Jefferson Ferris. His grandparents were free at the time of his parents’ birth. His father had volunteered in the Union Army at age 17.

Ferris earned a bachelor’s from Yale and a master’s from Harvard Divinity School.

As a student, he participated in the March 5, 1897, meeting to celebrate the memory of Frederick Douglass and found the American Negro Academy.

He remained active in the American Negro Academy, where scholars and activists of this first African American learned society joined in scholarship promoting Black claims to social and political equality.

College teaching, newspaper work, preaching and publishing two books were all accomplished from 1900 to 1913, as the activist/scholar studied the history and sociology of African American life. He stood firmly against racist theories.

Ferris worked with Wm. Monroe Trotter at the Boston Guardian and took up that Black civil-rights newspaper’s opposition toward the more conservative accommodation approach to Black civil rights supported by Booker T. Washington.

Ferris and W.E.B. DuBois were among a group of 32 African American men who founded The Niagara Movement in 1905. They called for full Black civil liberties, an end to racial discrimination and recognition of human brotherhood.

T. DOUGLAS OLIVE

Champaign

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