The Coal Black Rose

The Coal Black Rose

The Coal Black Rose

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

Title of Song:          The Coal Black Rose

Composer:              Snyder, White

Publisher:               J.L. Frederick

Year & Place:        1829; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Collection/Call Number/Copies:                Music B. 128, no. 28

Historic American Sheet Music Item #:   hasmsm.009

Basic Description

In the diminutive image here embedded amongst text and musical notation, an anthropomorphized rose appears.  The petals are arranged to constitute the face of a person approximating a pair of eyes, eyelids and eyebrows in darker hatching and a pair of lips.  Inserted between the eyes is a nose.  Framing this sexually ambiguous “flower-face” is an array of six leaves.  A second image appearing on another page of this sheet music shows a man with a banjo.  The contour lines of his body and the slight coloration suggest a cursory sketch.  Wearing a dark hat, the subject stands with head turned towards the viewer and his accentuated buttocks and calf protrude.

Personal Description

Among the numerous words to describe this image, ‘odd’ and ‘creepy’ seem particularly apt.  One has only to describe it as an “animated face-plant” to understand this.  Shrouded in ambiguity are any identifying or contextual features or characteristics.  What is clear is that artist is relocating the viewer in different visual realm.  This image’s illusion is conveyed by the lack of a connecting body, or any other visual cues that reference the real.  The second image then, should stand in striking contrast as the full body of a male banjo player is visualized.  Furthermore, the facial features of this man resemble those of the rose. Still, this image is also illusionistic for its curious lack of details and corporeal distortion.  Finally, its placement of the banjo where the male phallus might be is suggests an eroticism that might be derivative of the eras latent sexual deviancies displayed in other art forms such as minstrelsy.

Reality Check

Reverend Richard Allen

Richard Allen was the leading figure in events that produced the independent black church movement and led to the establishment of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.  He also served as one of the early bishops of the AME church.  Allen saved enough money to purchase his freedom from his delaware master in 1777, the year in which he also was converted.  Within a few years he was preaching and winning the favor of Bishop Francis Asbury, the founder of American Methodism.  In 1786 he moved to Philadelphia, where he began to hold prayer meetings for his own people.  His proposal to set up a separate place of worship was opposed by whites and some blacks.  It was only after the officials of St. George’s Church, where he frequently preached, proposed to segregate the large number of blacks who came to hear him that it became clear to him and others that blacks should have a separate church. Allen was able to organize and dedicate Bethel Church in 1794.  In 1799 Bishop Asbury ordained him deacon and later he was elevated to the status of an elder.  His church became known as the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

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