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John W. I. Lee

Mar 21, 2022

The First Black Archaeologist

A Life of John Wesley Gilbert

Oxford University Press 2022

The First Black Archaeologist: A Life of John Wesley Gilbert (Oxford UP, 2022) reveals the untold story of a pioneering African American classical scholar, teacher, community leader, and missionary. Born into slavery in rural Georgia, John Wesley Gilbert (1863-1923) gained national prominence in the early 1900s, but his accomplishments are littleknown today. Using evidence from archives across the U.S. and Europe, from contemporary publications, and from newly discovered documents, this book chronicles, for the first time, Gilbert's remarkable journey. As we follow Gilbert from the segregated public schools of Augusta, Georgia, to the lecture halls of Brown University, to his hiring as the first black faculty member of Augusta's Paine Institute, and through his travels in Greece, western Europe, and the Belgian Congo, we learn about the development of African American intellectual and religious culture, and about the enormous achievements of an entire generation of black students and educators.

Readers interested in the early development of American archaeology in Greece will find an entirely new perspective here, as Gilbert was one of the first Americans of any race to do archaeological work in Greece. Those interested in African American history and culture will gain an invaluable new perspective on a leading yet hidden figure of the late 1800s and early 1900s, whose life and work touched many different aspects of the African American experience.

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