North American Scholar

BULKLEY, William Lewis

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  • Date of Birth (YYYY-MM-DD): 1861-03-23
  • Born City: Greenville
  • Born State/Country: SC
  • Parents: Vincent Henry & Madora Wilson B. (free people of color)
  • Date of Death (YYYY-MM-DD): 1933-08-05
  • Death City: Nice
  • Death State/Country: France
  • Married: Mary Fisher Carroll, March 8, 1888
  • Education:

    University of South Carolina, 1877; A.B. Claflin U., 1882; M.A., 1891; Wesleyan U., 1884-6; PhD. Syracuse U., 1893; Strasbourg U. and the Sorbonne, 1893-4.

  • Professional Experience:

    Instr. Claflin U., 1882-4; prof. Latin & Greek, 1886-99; vice president, 1896-9; teacher, P.S. 114, Canarsie, Brooklyn, NY, 1899-1901; principal, P.S. 80, NYC, 1901-9; Principal, 125, 65, & 79, NYC, 1909-23; principal, Evening Elementary School, P.S. 80 & P.S. 67, NYC, 1905-23.

  • Publications:

    Selected Publications:

    "Our Foreign Letter," column published in 17 issues of Southwestern Christian Advocate (June 1893-August 1894); Our Race as We See It: An Address Delivered at Orangeburg, S.C., January 1st, 1890, in Claflin University Chapel (Orangeburg, SC: Berry & Howell, 1890); "The Negro and the Future," The Colored American Magazine 10, 5 (1906) 313; "Race Prejudice as Viewed from an Economic Standpoint" (delivered in 1909 at the National Negro Conference) in The Voice of Black America: Major Speeches by Negroes in the United States, 1797-1971 (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1972); "The School as a Social Center," in The Negro in the Cities of the North (New York: The Charity Organization Society, 1905) 76-8.

  • Notes:

    William Lewis Bulkley was the son of an itinerant Methodist preacher and received his early education in a freedmen's school in Greenville, South Carolina. In 1874, the Rev. Lewis M. Dunton introduced the thirteen-year-old Bulkley to Latin and algebra and ignited his passion for learning. From that time on, Bulkley relentlessly pursued his education. In 1893 he earned his Ph.D. from Syracuse University, the fourth Ph.D. granted to an African-American in the United States and the first in a classical language. His professor, Frank Smalley, wrote that Bulkley had the spirit of an investigator and an independent thinker and showed excellent ability in grasping the meaning of the author and rendering it into idiomatic English. Bulkley described his own feelings about Latin in the Claflin University Catalogue for1888-1889. 

    At the outset our aim shall not be to crowd the pupils' minds with dry rules and tedious inflections, but to strengthen their knowledge of the English, while they are mastering the fundamental principles of the Latin. ...to show wherein they (Latin and Greek) form the beautiful in our own tongue; to cultivate a taste for literature of a high order; and to develop proper and effective expression of thought.

    Bulkley taught Latin and Greek at Claflin. However, as education for African-Americans included more vocational training and less academic work and as the racial situation in the South deteriorated, Bulkley turned toward the North. He accepted a job in the New York City school system in 1899 and remained there through 1923. He was an educational innovator and civil rights advocate. In 1906 he founded the Committee for Improving the Industrial Condition of the Negro in New York, which became one of the founding organizations of the National Urban League. He was also active in the founding of the NAACP. In 1923 he retired and moved to France, where he died ten years later. Although Bulkley left teaching Latin and Greek when he left Claflin, his writing and speeches frequently contain classical allusions and his education put him on an equal footing with people like W. E. B.Du Bois, Mary White Ovington, L. Hollingsworth Wood, and William Scarborough with whom he engaged in the struggle for dignity and equality for African-Americans. 

  • Sources:

    Michele Valerie Ronnick, "William Lewis Bulkley," in The Oxford African American Studies Center's Online continuation of African American National Biography, ed. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. & Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham (New York: Oxford U. Press) www.oxfordaasc.com/public/index.jsp; Peggy W. Norris, "William L. Bulkley, 1861-1933; Educator, Orator, and Reformer," unpublished manuscript, 2018; "Prof. Wm. Lewis Bulkley," in Progress of a Race: The Remarkable Advancement of the Afro-American Negro (Atlanta: J.L. Nichols & Co., 1897) 491-4; Susan D. Carle, Defining the Struggle: National Racial Justice Organizing, 1880-1915 (New York: Oxford U. Press, 2013); "William Lewis Bulkley—A Brief Biography" https://wlbulkley.wordpress.com./

     

  • Author: Peggy W. Norris