Way down south; Characteristic march, cake-walk and two-step

Way Down South

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

Title of Song:  Way down south; Characteristic march, cake-walk and two-step

Composer: Clark, J.F.

Illustrator: L.S. Fisher

Publisher: G.W. Setchell

Year & Date:  1899, Boston, Massachusetts

Collection/Call Number/Copies:  Music #B-160

Historic American Sheet Music Item #: b0160

Basic Description
A group of stiff, grinning men line up on the left. A group of women on the right lean or gesture toward them. The two central figures, a man and a woman, are tilting forward in an unnatural way as if they are wood or paper cutouts. It’s unclear if the man,  holding a cake, is a dance contestant or presenting a prize to the woman.  There is a number 11 on his lapel and a number 44 on the lapel of the man behind him, implying they are contestants in a cakewalk dance, a couples’ competition with a cake as the winner’s reward. There is a sketchy awkwardness to the scene—a woman in the distant background is so haphazardly drawn that her head looks like a puff of smoke. The man to the far left wears a monocle that makes him look bug-eyed. A man in the distant background appears bug-eyed and pencil-necked.

Personal Description
This is a deeply conflicted image. The title “Way Down South” implies that we’re seeing a regional practice indigenous to the southern United States. The use of the word “characteristic,” suggests these poses are “typical” or archetypal vis a vis African American social life. What’s ironic, then, is the striking differentiation among the figures in terms of scale and physical characteristics. The woman in the flowered skirt is at least 15 percent larger than the man holding the cake. Their complementary gestures imply that they are interacting, yet the divergence in size makes them appear disconnected. The women lack stereotypical facial characteristics, yet the men seem to possess them in varying degrees.  From one figure to the next and within the individual figures themselves, representations veer between elegant and vulgar. This may result from the artist’s lack of skill, but it may also reflect an ambiguous attitude toward African Americans and, by extension, confusion about the meaning of the cakewalk dance. Was it performed to mock white culture? Was it a pathetic struggle to match the whites’ culture? Or did it reflect African American mastery over that culture?

Reality Check

ms0312-0402

Niagara Movement delegates, Boston, Massachusetts, 1907

The Niagara Movement was an African American civil rights organization founded in 1905 by a group led by W.E.B. Du Bois and William Monroe Trotter.  It was named for the “mighty current” of change the group wanted to effect and the Niagara Falls in New York was near the site of their first meeting.

The Niagara Movement was a call for opposition to racial segregation and disenfranchisement and to the policies of accommodation and conciliation promoted by African American leaders like Booker T. Washington. The philosophies of the group were in direct contrast to more conciliatory philosophies that proposed patience over militancy.

In July 1905 a group led by W.E.B. Du Bois, John Hope, Fred L. McGhee, and William Monroe Trotter met in Fort Erie, opposite Buffalo, New York on the Canadian side of the Niagara River, to discuss full civil liberties, the end of racial discrimination, and the recognition of human brotherhood.  Twenty-nine people attended the first meeting.

The Niagara Movement eventually split into separate committees and divided among the states, establishing chapters in twenty one states by mid-September and reaching 170 members by year’s end. By 1910 however, due to weak finances and internal dissension the group was disbanded.

The second meeting of the Niagara Movement was held at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, the site of John Brown’s raid.  The three-day gathering began on August 15, 1906 at the campus of Storer College, now part of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. The group discussed how to secure civil rights for African Americans and was later described by Du Bois as “one of the greatest that American Negroes ever held.” Those who attended walked from Storer College to the nearby Murphy Family Farm, the site of the historic fort where John Brown’s quest to free four million enslaved African Americans reached its climax. They removed their socks and shoes at the site to honor the hallowed ground and participated in a ceremony of remembrance.

The Niagara Movement had a number of organizational flaws including a lack of funding and central leadership. Booker T. Washington’s opposition drew support away from the group. Following the Springfield Race Riot of 1908, the movement admitted its first white member, Mary White Ovington, a settlement worker and a socialist. In 1911 the remaining membership of the Niagara Movement joined with a number of white liberals to form the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People [NAACP].

South Car’lina tickle: Cake walk

South Car'Lina Tickle

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

Title of Song:  South Car’lina tickle : Cake walk

Composer: Geibel, Adam

Publisher: Theodore Presser

Year & Date:  1898, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Collection/Call Number/Copies:  Music # B-376

Historic American Sheet Music Item #: b0376

Basic Description
A tall, lanky man in a three-piece suit and a woman in a blouse with puffed sleeves and a long patterned skirt “strut their stuff” with their heads tilted upward. The man holds his right hand up daintily, showing off a glimmering jewel on his pinky finger. The luminosity of the jewel matches the gleaming button or brooch at the center of his ruffled shirt. With his head slightly raised and a smile on his face, he seems proud of his appearance. His yellow-dappled bow-tie and the poufy flower on his lapel nearly rival his head in size. Something that appears to be a medal dangles from his waist and his coat tails flare out jauntily. The woman’s skirt is patterned with what appear to be gourds, and her elaborately-clothed figure casts a dark shadow on the ground.  She too holds out her right hand, drawing attention to a ring on her finger, but her attention seems to be caught by the large flower in her left hand.

Personal Description
The self-importance of the couple seems to be a theme in this image, emphasized by the man’s jewels and the almost haughty posture of both figures.  However, the presence of three large flowers and the gourd-like design on the woman’s skirt seem to water down or distract from these overt connotations of extravagance and material wealth, almost giving the figures a slightly folksy quality. By 1898, the year this song sheet was published, the cakewalk as a couples dance had become popular in ballrooms and also as a stage act. Couples stepped high to a tune, while judges eliminated them one by one, presenting the best pair with a cake. Couples were judged on their inventiveness, elegance and grace, so the exaggerated poise and costume of the two figures in this image may be a highly exaggerated and caricatured interpretation of the qualities of the dance itself. This could be an ironic reversal of the original meaning of the cakewalk if the theory that it originated among slaves as a satire of white ballroom culture is true.

Reality Check

Gertrude Bustill Mossell (1855-1948) and Nathan Francis Mossell
Gertrude Bustill Mossell was a journalist, author, and member of the women’s suffrage movement. She was born in Philadelphia to a prominent African American family. After graduating from the Robert Vaux Grammar School, she taught school for seven years. In 1893 she married a leading Philadelphia physician, Nathan Frances Mossell. They married in 1893 and had four children together. The marriage ended her career as a teacher since married women were not allowed to teach. In 1894 she published the first of her books, The Work of the Afro-American Woman, a collection of essays and poems illustrating the contemporary work of black women. The book chronicles the achievements of thousands of African American women in different fields.

Bustill was also a journalist, and her articles on political and social issues were published in a number of periodicals including the AME Church Review, the Philadelphia Echo, the Indianapolis Freeman, the Franklin Rankin Institute, and Our Women and Children. Bustill edited the New York Freeman, the Indianapolis World, and the New York Age. In Philadelphia, she wrote syndicated columns in the Echo, the Philadelphia Times, the Independent and the Press Republican. Mossell also assisted in editing the Lincoln Alumni magazine, a journal of the Lincoln University, a prestigious institution for educating black men, such as Bustill’s husband, Nathan Mossell.

Because most hospitals in Philadelphia refused care to black patients, Bustill and her husband raised funds to open the Frederick Douglass Memorial Hospital and Training School. The hospital opened in 1895 with an academic program to help black women become nurses.

Bustill’s husband, Nathan Francis Mossell was a prominent Philadelphia physician born in Canada. After graduating from Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, Mossell entered the University of Pennsylvania Medical School and became the first African-American physician to be elected to the Philadelphia County Medical Society.  Dr. Mossell served as superintendent and medical director of the Douglass Memorial Hospital for 47 years. He was a founder of the Philadelphia branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored people and co-founder of the Philadelphia Academy of Medicine and Allied Sciences. He died in 1946. His wife Gertrude died two years later, in 1948.

(Sources: http://www.archives.upenn.edu/people/1800s/mossell_nathan_f.html, New York Times, Dr. Nathan F. Mossell, Oldest Active Negro Physician, Uncle of Paul Robeson, Was 90, October 29, 1946)

Remus takes the cake; A Southern melody; Characteristic two step-march

Remus Takes the Cake

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

Title of Song:  Remus takes the cake; A Southern melody; Characteristic two step-march

Composer: Ellis, Jacob Henry

Engraver: Moss Photo Eng.

Publisher: Willis Woodward

Year & Date:  1896, New York, New York

Collection/Call Number/Copies:  Music # A-2017

Historic American Sheet Music Item #: a2017

Basic Description
An African American man holds out a gigantic white cake ringed with red puffs and topped with a red bow.  His attire is ostentatious- a bright red bow tie, a flower on his lapel, a three-piece suit and tails, white gloves, and a gleaming diamond button on his shirt. The etched lines of the engraving and his blank stare give the man’s face a wooden quality. His position, with his empty white-gloved hand poised at chest level, makes him look mechanical. The man’s lips are large and disproportionate with the rest of his facial features.

Personal Description
The joy implied by the man’s smile is undermined by the wooden appearance of his face and blank look in his eyes. There is something mechanical about his actions. Finery swirls around him, from his clothes to the ribbon-bedecked cake to the delicate vine-like embellishments that seem to be inspired by French toille. Though the title and bravado of the man’s pose suggest his empowerment (maybe the cake as a prize for winning a dance contest), the man appears impotent and almost child-like, dwarfed by the pomp that encircles him.

Reality Check

Charles Chesnutt (1858-1932)

Charles Waddell Chesnutt was born the son of free black parents on June 20, 1858 in Cleveland, Ohio. His parents had recently moved to Cleveland from Fayetteville, North Carolina in response to the growing restrictions placed on free blacks in that slave state.
By 1866, Chesnutt worked part time in the family store while regularly attending Cleveland’s Howard School for Blacks.

In 1872 Chesnutt was forced to end his formal education at the age of fourteen because he had to help support his parents.  However, the school’s principal invited him to stay at the school as a distinguished pupil-teacher and turn his modest salary over to his father.

By sixteen, Chesnutt was employed in Charlotte, North Carolina as a full-time teacher and in 1877, returned to Fayetteville, North Carolina as the assistant principal of Howard School.  In 1880 Chesnutt became the school’s principal.

In search of more lucrative employment, Chesnutt resigned his school-administrator post in 1883 and moved to New York City where he worked as a stenographer and journalist on Wall Street.  By 1887, Chesnutt returned to Cleveland and was admitted to the Ohio Bar.   As a teacher, lawyer, businessman and writer, Chesnutt was a prominent member of Cleveland’s African American elite.  By 1900, however, Chesnutt gave up his business and professional life to write and lecture full-time.

Chesnutt was one of the first black American fiction writers to receive serious critical attention and acclaim for portraying blacks realistically and sensitively. In 1899 he wrote his first major novel, The Conjure Woman. Other books followed including The Wife of His Youth and Other Stories of the Color Line published also in 1899, as well as a biography of Frederick Douglass first released in that same year.  Another popular publication of Chesnutt was a novel entitled The House Behind the Cedars that he published in 1900.  Many of Chesnutt’s publications reflect a similar and distinct shunning of condescending characterizations of African Americans and challenging of the usual sympathetic portrayals of slavery.  Charles Waddell Chesnutt died in Cleveland in November, 1932.

Ethiopian serenade; Burlesque

Ethiopian Serenade

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

Title of Song:  Ethiopian Serenede; Burlesque

Composer: Puerner, Charles

Publisher: Wm. A. Pond

Year & Date:  1883, New York, New York

Collection/Call Number/Copies:  Music# B-477

Historic American Sheet Music Item #: b0477

Basic Description
A man plays what appears to be a fretless banjo and sings with a far-off look in his eyes. He has dark skin but it is not clear if he is a representation of an African American man or a minstrel playing a role. The man is dressed in a top hat and a dignified, if modest suit. His eyes are disproportionately large, especially in comparison with his tiny nose,  and his lips are parted to reveal two rows of small, perfectly formed white teeth.

Personal Description
The instructions to play the “Ethiopian Serenade” on piano prompt the question of why this man is strumming a banjo. The implication seems to be that this is an authentic “Ethiopian” song that has been musically adapted for safe consumption in white middle class parlors. Words like “burlesque” and “serenade” would be clues that the rough, vernacular music of the African (played on the banjo, an instrument with African roots) had been tempered with the civility of European musical influences. The dignified yet childlike man with his banjo functions simply as a hollowed-out symbol of African American culture converted into a safe consumer amusement.

Reality Check

Ebenezer D. Bassett (1803-1908)
Ebenezer D. Bassett was appointed U.S. Minister Resident to Haiti in 1869, making him the first African American diplomat.  For eight years, the educator, abolitionist, and black rights activist oversaw bilateral relations through bloody civil warfare and coups d’état on the island of Hispaniola.

Born in Connecticut on October 16, 1833, Ebenezer D. Bassett was the second child of Eben Tobias and Susan Gregory.  Bassett was the first black student to integrate the Connecticut Normal School in 1853.  He taught in New Haven and befriended Frederick Douglass.  Later, he became the principal of Philadelphia’s Institute for Colored Youth (ICY).

During the Civil War, Bassett helped recruit African American soldiers for the Union.  In nominating Bassett to become Minister Resident to Haiti, President Ulysses S. Grant made him one of the highest ranking black members of the United States government.

During his tenure, Bassett dealt with cases of citizen commercial claims, diplomatic immunity for his consular and commercial agents, hurricanes, fires, and numerous tropical diseases.

Upon the end of the Grant Administration in 1877, Bassett submitted his resignation as was customary with a change of hands in government.  When he returned to the United States, he spent an additional ten years as the Consul General for Haiti in New York City. Prior to this death on November 13, 1908, he returned to live in Philadelphia, where his daughter Charlotte also taught at the ICY.

(Source: http://www.blackpast.org)

Hie away old Satan; Galop; Good bye Nancy Jane

Hie Away Old Satan

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

Basic Description
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.

Personal Description
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.

Reality Check

W.E.B. DuBois, son Burghardt DuBois, and Nina Gomer DuBois

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.)

My Home in Alabam’

My Home in Alabam'

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

Title of Song:  My Home in Alabam’

Composer: Putnam, James S.

Publisher: John F. Perry

Year & Date:  1881, Boston, Massachusetts

Collection/Call Number/Copies: Music#  B-666
Historic American Sheet Music Item #: b0666

Basic Description
A man sits on a wooden chair in a sparse garret bedroom with a banjo on his lap and his head in his hand. He stares at the viewer with a distant, troubled look, in a pose like Auguste Rodin’s “The Thinker.” The town-like setting in the window contrasts with the plantation scene above— a dream space corralled by a dense frame of cloud-like circles.  The cracks and exposed bricks in the wall, along with the jagged hemlines of the man’s pant legs set depressing tone.  Rather than being integrated with the picture, the title text is set in the white space around the image. Two title options, “My Dear Savannah Home,” and “My Home in Alabam” are listed in sober typeface.

Personal Description
Each title option can lead to a different and contradictory interpretation of the image. Interestingly, this pamphlet includes two song sheet covers for other “plantation melodies” printed by the same publisher. This imagery makes light of the plantation experience, showing caricatured African Americans dancing or filling pails with berries. Like the song illustrated on the main cover, these songs also have two titles each that contrast oddly with each other. “De Huckleberry Picnic”  implies a recreational activity at one’s own free will but “Since I Saw de Cotton Grow” suggests the forced labor of slavery or the exploitation of sharecropping.  “My Dear Savannah Home” implies that the seated man is nostalgic for plantation life. But “My Home in Alabam” is vague, allowing the plantation memory invading the scene to be interpreted not as a cherished dream but rather an oppressive nightmare.

Reality Check

Edward Alexander Bouchet
(1852-1918)
Edward Alexander Bouchet was an educator and scientist who was born in New Haven Connecticut. His family was a member of the Temple Street Congregational Church, a stopping point for fugitive slaves along the Underground Railroad.

In 1868, Bouchet was accepted into Hopkins Grammar School, a private institution that prepared young men for the classical and scientific departments at Yale College. He graduated first in his class at Hopkins and graduated from Yale in 1874, ranking sixth in his class. In 1876, he completed a dissertation on geometrical optics,  becoming the first African American to earn a PhD from an American University and the sixth American of any race to earn a PhD in Physics.

Bouchet moved to Philadelphia in 1876 to teach at the Institute for Colored Youth, the city’s only high school for African American students.  Bouchet gave public lectures to his community in Philadelphia on scientific topics and was a member of the Franklin Institute, a foundation for the promotion of the mechanic arts, chartered in 1824.

In 1908, he became principal of Lincoln High School in Gallipolis, Ohio, where he remained until 1913, when an attack of arteriosclerosis compelled him to resign and return to New Haven. He died in his boyhood home in 1916.

(Source: African American Lives, edited by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, Oxford University Press, 2004.

I’se Gwine to Leave Old Dixie; Companion to (I’se Gwine Back to Dixie)

I'se Gwine Back To Leave Old Dixie

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

Title of Song:  I’se Gwine to Leave Old Dixie; Companion to (I’se Gwine Back to Dixie)

Composer: White, Charles Albert

Lyricist: Cooper, George

Lithographer: F.M. Haskell  & Co.

Publisher: White, Smith & Company

Year & Date:  1879, Boston, Massachusetts

Collection/Call Number/Copies:  Music# B-745

Historic American Sheet Music Item #: b0745

Basic Description
This lithograph consists of a framed illustration with embellished lettering above and below. The illustration shows an old man and woman sitting on top of a horse and buggy. The vehicle is stuffed with their personal belongings— mostly the tools of manual labor— a hoe, a broom, a saw— some chairs, and some wooden barrels.  The man has a white beard and what appears to be a cane behind his shoulder. He is hunched over, tired-looking and frail. The woman holds a clock in her hands. The horse’s eyes are covered by blinders and two children, a boy and a girl, stare at it. A scrawny dog with its ribs showing trots next to them. The outlines of two people working in the field are faintly visible.

Personal Description
The clock stands out from the farm-related belongings and seems to symbolize the pressures facing the couple; the scene could be read in the context of the failure of Reconstruction.  But is this couple sad to leave home or simply worn out, weary, and hungry? In other song sheet covers on this blog, “Dixie,” as an imagined place, is invested with emotional power. A pull toward self-improvement and prosperity in the North is sometimes undermined by disillusionment and a mental Southward slide toward familiarity and so-called comfort. “I’se Gwine to Leave Old Dixie” is a song about leaving the South out of financial need, but wanting to stay. The lithograph could be seen as representing the transition from an idealized way of life to a world of  urgent financial pressures. Rather than representing the hope of a new generation, the children almost seem to be witnessing their own fate in the troubles of the older couple.

Reality Check

Ellen Craft (1826-1891) and William Craft (1824-1900)
Ellen Craft was a light-skinned African American slave woman who helped her husband escape from slavery by passing as white. Her husband William wrote an autobiographical slave narrative that described their dramatic escape.

They traveled by public transportation from their home in Georgia to freedom in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, staying in hotels along the way.

Ellen Craft was born in Clinton Georgia to a biracial slave woman and her master. She was so light-skinned that she was often mistaken for a member of her father’s white family. At age 11, she was given as a wedding gift to daughter who lived in Macon. There she met William and married him in 1846. Together they devised their escape plan— to pose as a white slaveholder with his slave.

Because a white woman would not have traveled alone with a male slave, Ellen had to pretend to be not only white but a man. She cut her hair, changed her walk, and wrapped her jaw in bandages to disguise her lack of a beard. To hide her illiteracy, she wrapped her right arm in a sling to have a ready excuse for being unable to sign papers. She explained the bandages by claiming to be an invalid traveling north to receive medical care. They traveled this way from Georgia to Pennsylvania by train, steamer, and ferry without being discovered, arriving in Philadelphia on Christmas Day in 1848.

In Philadelphia they befriended William Lloyd Garrison and then moved to Boston, Massachusetts, where they traveled as anti-slavery lecturers. They fled to England in 1850, after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act. In 1868, following the Civil War, they returned to the United States and settled near Savannah, Georgia. They farmed a cotton and rice plantation and attempted to start a school. But financial debts from the plantation and hostility from white neighbors forced them to close it. Ellen Craft died in 1891. William moved to Charleston, South Carolina, where he died in 1900.

(Source: Africa Online, http://www.africanaonline.com/slavery_ellen_william_craft.htm)