Wake Nicodemus


Location:  Historic American Sheet Music Collection, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina

Title of Song:  Wake Nicodemus

Composer:  Work, Henry Clay

Publisher:  Root & Cady

Year & Place:  1864, Chicago, Illinois

Collection/Call Number/Copies:  Music A-62; 1-2

Historic American Sheet Music Item #: hasm.a0062

Basic Description

Peering out of a hole of a tree trunk and framed by tree branches overhead and to the right of the hole is a balding, grinning, elderly black man.  The linear renderings of floral and human forms in the engraving are naturalistic, accurately capturing foliage, bark, tree roots, and the facial features of the man.

Personal Description

Because of the placement of the tree trunk to the far left and the predominance of branches and roots in the overall design of the illustration, the grinning black man is a kind of visual surprise and functions as a comical aside.

Reality Check


John Robert Clifford (1848-1933), along with W.E.B. DuBois (seated), Monroe Trotter, & Freeman Henry Morris Murray

John Robert Clifford was born in Williamsport, West Virginia.  At the age of 10, Clifford was sent to Chicago and, five years later, he enlisted in the Union Army to fight in the Civil War.  He served in Company F, the 13th United States Heavy Artillery, attaining the rank of Corporal.  Clifford saw service in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia under General Ulysses S. Grant.

After the war Clifford attended Storer College in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia and, after graduating from Storer in 1875, enrolled at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina, where he received the A.M. degree.  After graduating from Shaw, he taught in several primary schools in West Virginia, and became a principal at the Sumner School in Martinsburg, West Virginia.  In Martinsburg he also founded and published the Pioneer Press: the first African-American newspaper in West Virginia, and the oldest in the country at the time of its discontinuance.

Clifford “read law” in a local attorney’s office and, in 1887, he was admitted to practice before the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, becoming West Virginia’s first African American lawyer.  In 1892, Clifford became the attorney for Mrs. Carrie Williams, an African American schoolteacher, in a landmark civil rights case (Williams v. Board of Education, 1898).  The Williams case established the right of the children of African American workers in West Virginia coalmines and coke ovens to school terms of equal length as those enjoyed by white children.  The Williams case also established the right of African American schoolteachers in West Virginia to equal pay.

John Robert Clifford was a key figure in the early 20th century civil rights movement, helping to establish the American Negro Academy in 1897 and, between 1911 and 1913, serving as President of the National Independent Political League.  Most notably Clifford was a leading organizer and participant (along with W.E.B. Du Bois) in the 2nd Annual Meeting of the Niagara Movement at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia in August 1906.  Clifford continued to be an active leader in African American efforts for justice until his death in 1933.  In 1954 he was re-interred at Arlington National Cemetery.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s