Location: Historic American Sheet Music Collection, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina
Title of Song: Long Time Ago
Composer: Rice, T.
Publisher: G. Willig
Year & Place: 1833, Baltimore, Maryland
Collection/Call Number/Copies: Music #851
Historic American Sheet Music Item #: hasm.hasmsm003
A man is shown holding a stick in his right hand and a shallow pan in his left. The gashes in the pan suggest it has been struck with the stick as a makeshift form of percussion. The man’s dress — a three-piece-suit— is tattered, with patches over the knees, rear, and elbow. His shoes do not have laces, and the right shoe has disintegrated at the toes. The pants only reach the knee and stockings cover the man’s calves, revealing a patch of skin on his upper left calf. The man’s legs have an oddly rumpled texture, apparently an indication of the extreme wear and distressed nature of the clothing. The man’s pose; his right arm bent and raised blithely into the air, his left arm akimbo, was common to representations of the performer, Thomas “Daddy” Rice, one of the first blackface minstrels.
The makeshift instrument and suggestion of carefree, joyful dancing coincides with the notion, widely held in the 1830s, that African Americans were an innately rhythmic, simple, and musical people, impervious to concern in spite of their shoddy clothes and derogated social status. The pan indicates the “spontaneous” nature of African American artistic expression. Audiences viewing this illustration at the time would have recognized Rice as a blackface performer and not as an African American man. By now Rice was famous for his invention of “Jumping Jim Crow,” and had inspired others to follow his lead in “blacking up” and imitating the singing and dancing of African Americans.
Daniel Coker (born Isaac Wright) was a writer, activist, and a founder of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, who eventually emigrated from the United States to Sierra Leone as a missionary and colonist. Coker was born in either Baltimore County or Frederick County, Maryland. His mother, Susan Coker, was a white indentured servant. His father was an African American slave. He was raised in a household with his white half-brothers from his mother’s previous marriage and allowed to attend school as their valet. While still in school, he fled to New York, where he changed his name to Daniel Coker and was ordained a Methodist minister.
After his ordainment, he secretly returned to Maryland, where friends helped him purchase his freedom. This gave him the rare chance to speak out against slavery and to participate in activities not usually open to African Americans. He began teaching and preaching in the Baltimore area. Responding to racial discrimination in the Methodist Church, he called upon African American Methodists to withdraw from the white-dominated church and establish their own organization. Unable to recruit enough parishioners from the Sharp Street Church where he worked, he and others who espoused his separatist ideals broke from the congregation to form the African Bethel Church, which later became the Bethel A.M.E. Church.
In 1816 Coker and his supporters were invited to attend the Philadelphia Conference, from which the national organization of the African Methodist Episcopal Church was formed. The new AME Church denomination was the first in the United States founded by people of African ancestry. Coker became the first church secretary and was nominated to be the first bishop of the new denomination. He declined this position, however.
Coker left the United States in 1820 with 84 other African Americans who would become settlers in in Liberia. He was one of four AME missionaries who intended to establish the denomination in Africa. When the other three missionaries died, Coker led the remaining colonists to the British colony of Sierra Leone, where they were welcomed by Governor Charles MacCarthy. Coker eventually established a church in Freetown and remained its spiritual leader until his death in 1846.
Source: BlackPast.org: An Online Reference Guide to African American History, maintained by Quintard Taylor, Professor of American History, University of Seattle, Washington.