UNDER DE MANGO TREE!

UNDER THE MANGO TREE!

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

Title of Song:  “Under de Mango Tree”

Composer:  Edward Greey

Illustrator:  C. Lyall

Lithographer:  Hounslow

Publisher:  Wm. A. Pond

Year & Place:  1872, New York, NY

Collection/Call Number/Copies:  Music B-280

Historic American Sheet Music Item #:  b0280

Basic Description

A woman and man are shown underneath a fruit-filled tree.  The woman — with her skirt inexplicably hiked above waist and bundled between her and the tree trunk she’s leaning against — demurely lowers her head, while the man — whose head looks like a cross between a Valentine’s Day heart and Mephistopheles from Gounod’s opera Faust — lunges towards her with pleading gestures.

Personal Description

Difficulties in love are a frequent topic for visual satirists and, yet, the visual allusions here to seductive nymphs and lust-filled satyrs (re: the man’s cloven-like feet) are further compounded by the racializing and tropicalizing of Eros in this lithograph.

Reality Check

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Henry Highland Garnet (1815-1882) & Sarah J. Smith Thompkins Garnet (1831-1911)

Born into slavery near New Markey, Maryland, Henry Highland Garnet escaped from bondage via the Underground Railroad with his parents, George and Henrietta Trusty in 1824.  After residing briefly in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, the family settled in New York City where the family name was changed to Garnet.

Henry attended the African Free School, which was one of several schools established in northeastern cities by white philanthropists.  His classmates included several future black abolitionist leaders such as Alexander Crummell, Samuel Ringgold Ward, and James McCune Smith.  While Henry Garnet was at sea working as a cabin boy and cook, his parents narrowly escaped slave catchers.  After he returned home, Garnet suffered a debilitating leg injury that plagued him for the rest of his life.  He found solace in the church and joined the First Colored Presbyterian Church in New York where he also found a community of abolitionists.

In the decades leading up to the Civil War, Henry Highland Garnet pursued manifold careers in the ministry, education, and in abolitionist activities.  In 1843 Garnet became nationally prominent when he delivered an address at the National Negro Convention meeting in Buffalo, New York, urging slaves to rebel and claim their own freedom.  In 1864 Garnett became pastor of the Fifteenth Street Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C.  On Sunday, February 12, 1865 Garnet preached a sermon in the U.S. House of Representatives.  Although he did not address Congress, his presentation was the first by an African American in the Capitol Building.

In 1868 Garnet moved to Pittsburgh where he briefly served as President of Avery College, a school of religious education for African Americans.  Originally an opponent of the colonization movement, by the mid-nineteenth century Garnet shifted his support to the migration of black Americans to Liberia.  In 1881 President James A. Garfield appointed Garnet minister (re: ambassador) to Liberia.  Garnet moved to the West African nation but died two months after his arrival.

Sarah Smith Tompkins Garnet was the first African American female principal in the New York public schools.  The eldest of eleven children, she was born Minsarah Smith in Brooklyn in 1831.  Her parents were prosperous farmers, and one of her sisters, Susan Smith McKinney Steward (1847-1918), was the first African American female in New York state to graduate with the M.D. degree.

In 1854 Smith Tompkins taught at the African Free School of Williamsburg (Brooklyn).  In 1863 she was appointed principal of Grammar School Number Four (later named Public School Number Eighty-One) and Public School Number Eighty. She remained in that dual position until she retired in 1900, the year New York repealed a law allowing separate schools for African Americans and whites.  In 1879, she married Henry Highland Garnet.  She was widowed again when Henry Highland Garnet died in 1882.

An active supporter of woman suffrage and African American civil rights, Smith Thompkins Garnet was also a businesswoman.  She owned a seamstress shop in Brooklyn from 1883 to 1911.  In the late 1880s, Garnet helped found the Equal Suffrage Club, a Brooklyn-based club for black women.  Sarah Garnet also served as superintendent of the Suffrage Department of the National Association of Colored Women.  Garnet supported the Niagara Movement, a predecessor to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (N.A.A.C.P.).  In 1911, Garnet accompanied her sister, Susan Smith McKinney Steward, to London, England, for the first Universal Races Congress.  Just weeks after she returned from Europe, Garnet died at home, at the age of 88.

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