Location: Historic American Sheet Music Collection, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina
Title of Song: Hie away old Satan; Galop; Good bye Nancy Jane
Composer: Rosenfeld, M.H.; Blake, Charles D.
Publisher: White, Smith & Company
Year & Date: 1885, Boston, Massachusetts
Collection/Call Number/Copies: Music# B-538
Historic American Sheet Music Item #: b0538
An African American woman reels from a man with devil horns and a long coiled tail. The man wears a jester suit. His body is lumpy and badly drawn, making him an absurd villain. He thrusts his claw-like hand toward the woman as she pulls away so forcefully that her heel slips out of her shoe. Her gaping, terrified mouth reveals missing teeth. The little boy she is trying to protect straddles the handle of a razor. The devil-man’s face is rendered differently from the cartoon-like faces of his potential victims, and has an almost photographic realism.
The woman is caught between a man with a long coiling tail and a baby boy with a razor popping from his mid-section. Is this a phallic reference and are the men (one darker-skinned, one lighter-skinned) fighting over the sexual ownership of this African American woman? While the lyrics describe a mother pleading Satan to leave her sleeping child alone, the image almost seems to shift the focus to stereotypes about African American male power and virility–the boy (who has the face of an adult man) seems better equipped to ward off the demon than his mother. Like the image, the title text is naively drawn. Perhaps the woman’s melodramatic reaction to this chubby “Satan” was an awkward attempt to caricature the perceived superstition and excessive religiosity among African Americans.
William Edward Burghardt DuBois was born on February 23, 1868 in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. He was the first African American to receive a doctorate from Harvard University and helped found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored people. He founded the Niagara Movement in 1905 and the NAACP’s official journal, The Crisis in 1910. He was a scholar, writer, editor, and civil rights pioneer.
While teaching classics and modern languages at Wilberforce University in Ohio, DuBois met Nina Gomer, a student at the college, whom he married in 1896 in her home in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
The above photograph shows DuBois with his first wife, Nina Gomer, and their son, Burghardt in 1899, while they were living in Great Barrington. Burghardt died in 1899, the year Gomer gave birth to their daughter Yolande.
In his 1903 collection of essays, The Souls of Black Folk, DuBois addresses the role of religion in the African American community, stating that the African American church that arose within the narrow limits of the slave system for decades antedated as a social institution the “monogamic Negro home.” He writes that “for fifty years Negro religion thus transformed itself and identified itself with the dream of Abolition, until that which was a radical fad in the white North and an anarchistic plot in the white South had become a religion in the black world. Thus, when Emancipation finally came, it seemed to the Freedman a literal Coming of the Lord. His fervid imagination was stirred as never before, by the tramp of armies, the blood and dust of battle, and the wail and whirl of social upheaval.”
Nina Gomer DuBois died in 1950. In 1952, he married the writer Shirley Graham. In 1961, DuBois became a resident of Ghana in 1961. He died there in 1963 at the age of 95.
(Sources: W.E.B. DuBois Global Resource Collection (http://www.duboisweb.org); African American Lives, edited by Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, Oxford University Press, 2004.)