News Release: Arts and Humanities, Events

Jan. 21,  2009

William H. Scott Exhibition Opens Jan. 23 at Emory

Little-known African American Pushed for Early Civil Rights

An exhibition on the papers and personal effects of an African American leader who brought early attention to the issue of civil rights will open at Emory University’s Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library (MARBL) Friday, Jan. 23.

"Slave, Soldier, Citizen: The Journey of William Henry Scott," an exhibition by Randall K. Burkett, curator of African American Collections, will be in display in MARBL Jan. 23-Aug. 8. A public opening and reception is scheduled 1:30-3:30 p.m. in MARBL.

Following the opening will be an address by Julian Bond, chairman of the NAACP, at 4 p.m. in Cannon Chapel, part of the King Week celebration at Emory Jan. 19-27.

Witnessed Civil War

Scott (1848-1910) grew up in Virginia in his master’s house and didn’t realize he was a slave until he was eight years old. He immediately began plotting his escape and found an opportunity in 1862, when Union troops moved into the area. Major Loring Muzzey of the 12th Massachusetts Regiment was looking for a bright young slave to educate, and he and the regiment took Scott under their wing. Scott spent three and a half years as Muzzey’s aide-de-camp, witnessing some of the worst battles of the Civil War.

Scott became a teacher, owned a bookstore in Washington, D.C., and was ordained a Baptist minister. Politically active throughout his adult life, he founded the Massachusetts Racial Protective League in 1896 and was one of the 29 original members of the Niagara Movement, the predecessor of the NAACP.

"As a teacher, historian, preacher and political activist, he was a fearless advocate for full citizenship rights at a time when, increasingly, those rights were being crushed by Northern indifference and Southern intransigence," says Burkett.


The exhibition encompasses photographs, sermon manuscripts, broadsides and pamphlets documenting all aspects of Scott’s life, including

  • A sword Scott snatched from a dead Confederate officer during a lull in the Battle of Fredericksburg.
  • Recordings of Scott’s sermons read by the Rev. C. T. Vivian, one of Atlanta’s eminent civil rights leaders.
  • Tintypes and photographs including a portrait of Muzzey, a photo of young Scott in his Union uniform and many family portraits.

Scott’s achievements came to light when one of Burkett’s students in Massachusetts wrote his senior thesis about the original members of the Niagara Movement and located Scott’s grandson, Henry T. Scott. The grandson bequeathed the family papers to Burkett with the request that his grandfather’s story be brought to public attention.

The exhibition is free and open to the public during normal library hours. MARBL is located on the 10th floor of the Woodruff Library on the Emory University campus, 540 Asbury Circle, Atlanta, GA 30322,, 404-727-6887. Cannon Chapel is located at 515 Kilgo Circle on the Emory campus.

About Emory University Libraries

The Emory University Libraries in Atlanta and Oxford, Ga., are an intellectual commons for Emory University, Atlanta and the world. The nine libraries’ holdings include more than 3.1 million print and electronic volumes, 40,000-plus electronic journals, and internationally renowned special collections.


News Release Tools