Tag Archives: Children


Good Bye My Honey I'm Gone

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

Title of Song:  “Good Bye My Honey I’m Gone”

Composer:  M.H. Rosenfeld

Lithographer:  C.H. Baker

Publisher:  W.A. Evans

Year & Place:  1885, Boston, Massachusetts

Collection/Call Number/Copies:  Music B-490

Historic American Sheet Music Item #:  b0490

Basic Description

This lithograph depicts a well-dressed African American woman, valise and African American boy in tow, boldly walking away from two men: one white, in a policeman’s uniform and holding a billy club to his mouth, and the other black, leaning on the officer and pointing in the woman’s direction.  To the immediate right of the woman three chickens fly away and, in the distance, a sailing ship exits right.  Behind the men are the traceries of two, cottage-like buildings. Gigantic shaving razors are noticeable in the dress and pants’ pockets of the woman and boy, respectively.

Personal Description

Despite the peripheral chaos (i.e., the scattering chickens and expressions of alarm or puzzlement on the men’s and boy’s faces) and the embedded threats of violence (i.e., the razors), there’s a strange calm pervading this image that’s largely located in the fleeing woman.  Is it her pleasant smile, her shapely figure and full bosom, or her Herculean arms and corporeal confidence that assuage what is clearly a scene of domestic dissolution? Her floral corsages, lightning-like ribbons and ruffles, and leather lace-ups sartorially empower her, so one wonders why the artist felt the additional need to fall back on the razor-toting Negro stereotype?

Reality Check


Mary Eliza Mahoney (1845-1926)

Mary Eliza Mahoney, America’s first black graduate nurse, was born in Dorchester, Massachusetts on May 7, 1845.  The eldest of three siblings, Mahoney attended the Phillips Street School in Boston.

At the age of twenty, Mary Mahoney began working as a nurse.  Supplementing her low income as an untrained, practical nurse, Mahoney took on janitorial duties at the New England Hospital for Women and Children: a state-of-the-art medical facility run solely by female physicians.

In 1878, Mary Mahoney was accepted into the New England Hospital’s graduate nursing program.  During her training, Mahoney participated in mandatory sixteen-hour-per-day ward duty, where she oversaw the well-being of six patients at a time.  Days not requiring ward duty involved attending day-long lectures while simultaneously devoting time to her studies.  Completing the rigorous sixteen-month program, Mahoney was among the three graduates out of the forty students who began the program and the only African American awarded a diploma.

Mary Mahoney worked as a nurse for the next four decades.  During her forty-year career she attracted a number of private clients who were among to most prominent Boston families.   A deeply religious person, the diminutive five-foot tall, ninety-pound Mahoney devoted herself to private nursing due to the rampant discrimination against black women in public nursing at the time.

Mary Mahoney was widely recognized within her field as a pioneer who opened the door of opportunity for many black women interested in the nursing profession.  When the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses (NACGN) was organized in New York in 1908, Mahoney was asked to give the welcoming address.  Following her speech at the 1909 NACGN Convention at Boston, Mahoney was made a lifetime member, exempted from dues, and elected chaplain.  Admitted to New England Hospital for care on December 7, 1925, Mahoney succumbed to breast cancer on January 4, 1926 at the age of eighty-one.


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.)


When Sousa Comes to Coon-Town

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

Title of Song:  “When Sousa comes to coon-town”

Composer:  Jim Vaughn & Lemonier

Lyricist:  Alex Rogers

Publisher:  Shapiro, Bernstein and Company

Year & Place:  1902, New York, NY

Collection/Call Number/Copies:  Music B-184

Historic American Sheet Music Item #:  b0184

Basic Description

The scene in this two-color (red and blue) lithograph is an outdoor parade, dominated by the banner “WHEN SOUSA COMES TO COON-TOWN.”  Underneath the banner is an orchestra of regimented white men, marching in unison in blue uniforms and led by a baton-wielding man with a beard and spectacles.  Surrounding the band are an enthralled audience of caricatured, white-lipped, beady-eyed, black people.  Most prominent among the caricatured throngs are: a top hat-wearing elderly man (on the far right); a bandanna- and apron-wearing rotund woman (parallel to the bandleader); and, just underneath the bandleader, six grotesque children who seem to be imitating him.

Personal Description

The inset box in the sheet music’s lower left corner, featuring formal photographs of African American performers Bert Williams and George Walker (along with titles and accolades), creates a fascinating counterpoint to the sheet music’s comical and stereotypical illustration.  Although the photographs convey a conceptual truth about these specific African Americans, the illustration does not operate without its own “truths” (i.e., the drawn “portrait” of the legendary bandleader John Phillip Sousa).  So the dilemma this sets up for viewers is: do these real portrayals in any way counter the adjacent images of absurd and degenerative African Americans?

Reality Check


The Clef Club Orchestra (with James Reese Europe), circa 1910

The Clef Club was a part fraternal organization, part union for African American entertainers at the beginning of the twentieth-century. The building it purchased on West 53rd Street served both as the club’s headquarters and as an office for theatrical bookings.  Legendary bandleader and musician James Reese Europe was the Clef Club’s first elected president as well as the conductor of its symphony orchestra.

The Clef Club Orchestra appeared at Carnegie Hall for the first time on May 2, 1912.  They were so well received that they returned in 1913 and 1914.  The Carnegie Hall concerts gave the Clef Club Orchestra greater respectability among white society and, as a result, they regularly performed at elite functions in New York, London, and Paris.  The club functioned as a clearing-house not only for musicians, but for all types of entertainers and, under Europe’s leadership, it was actively involved in improving the working conditions for African American entertainers.  When an act was booked through the Clef Club, the musicians were considered professionals and received a good salary, transportation expenses, room, and board.  The club proved exceptionally successful, generating over $100,000 a year in bookings at the height of its popularity.

One Clef Club Orchestra performance boasted 150 musicians, although not everyone who was on stage in some shows could actually play an instrument. Some were purely window-dressing, taught just enough to get them through performances, while others simply pretended to play their instruments.  In 1914, after disputes arose between Clef Club members, Europe resigned as its leader and Ford Dabney took over his spot as bandleader.

The Contraband Schottische

Contraband Schottisches

Contraband Schottisches

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

Title of Song:     Contraband schottische

Composer:         Winner, Septimus

Publisher:          Oliver Ditson: Lee & Walker

Year & Place:    1861; Boston, Massachusetts

Collection/Call Number/Copies:                Music B-1016

Historic American Sheet Music Item #:  hasm.b1016

Basic Description

This sheet music’s cover shows its viewer one moment from a longer narrative involving five characters.  A white male stands with his fist raised on two steps at the very top of the composition.  With a stern countenance, he wears a collared shirt as well as a bowtie, vest and sports jacket.  In his right hand he grasps a cane.  Below him in a pictorial space separated horizontally by a set of stairs are four black boys.  The child in the upper-right hand section of the pictorial space has turned his head to look back at the older man in the midst of running.  The other three seem to have stumbled and fallen over on to the ground.  The artist here has outfitted all four boys in the same attire which includes a billowy shirt and knickers.  While some have no shoes, other boys are in various stages of ‘shoelessness’.  The children, while in general disarray, maintain a jovial disposition as evidenced by the slight smiles of those in the foreground.

Personal Description

The composition, body language and written language of this image  suggest ambiguity.  While the comportment of the black bodies suggests that they are in trouble, having transgressed some unwritten rule, the term contraband that makes up part of the title could mean that they are the trouble.  The term contraband during this period referred to escaped slaves who fled from the South.  The lack of specific spatial markers disables the viewer from being certain.  Still, the positions of their bodies remaind curious.  The child in the upper-left portion of the space is practically upside down.  Similarly, the boy in the very front sits with his legs splayed open and the child in back of him lies on the ground horizontally.  And the boy who turns his head around seems to be suspended in mid-air.  The import of these observation is elucidated when they are compared with the only body that stands firmly, vertically upright, that of the older white male.  In both analytical contexts, his is a body that polices all of the others.

Reality Check

John J. Smith

John J. Smith

Born free in Richmond, Virginia, on November 2, 1820, John J. Smith moved to Boston at the age of twenty-eight. With an adventurous and pioneering spirit, Smith went West for the 1849 California Gold Rush but returned to Boston no richer than when he left.  At this time he became a barber and set up a shop on the corner of Howard and Bulfinch Streets.  His shop was a center for abolitionist activity and a rendezvous point for fugitive slaves. When abolitionist Senator Charles Sumner was not at his home or office, he was usually found at Smith’s shop.

Smith, his wife Georgiana, and other leaders such as Benjamin F. Roberts worked in the 1840s and 1850s in the fight for equal school rights. Boston’s public schools were integrated in 1855 and Smith’s daughter Elizabeth, in the early 1870s, became the first person of African descent to teach in Boston’s integrated schools. John Smith also worked to fight slavery and he was one of the men who played a key role in the rescue of the self-emancipated slave Shadrach Minkins from federal custody in 1851.

During the Civil War, Smith stationed himself in Washington, D.C., as a recruiting officer for the all-black 5th Cavalry. After the war, Smith was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1868, 1869 and 1872. In 1878, the year he moved to 86 Pinckney Street, he was appointed to the Boston Common Council. John J. Smith lived at this residence  until 1893.  He died on November 4, 1906.

(Source: Museum of African American History, Boston and Nantucket, http://www.afroammuseum.org/exhibits.htm; http://www.nps.gov/boaf/historyculture/john-j-smith-house.htm)

Walking for dat Cake

Walking for dat Cake

Walking for dat Cake

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

Title of Song:     Walking for Dat Cake

Composer:         Braham, David

Publisher:          Wm. A. Pond

Year & Place:    1877; New York, New York

Collection/Call Number/Copies:               Music B-156

Historic American Sheet Music Item #:  hasm.b0156

Basic Description

This image depicts a warm scene of revelry and dance inside of a wooden dwelling.  Young couples move about the floor in formal attire with the boys in suits and the women in dresses. The adults in this image line the walls and the outskirts of the floor. One couple, consisting of a male and a female watch the festivities from the back, far left portion of the space. while another couple stands in the far right of the background near the entrance of the house. Dancing in the far left foreground, a matronly woman balances a plate of food on her head. She wears glasses as well as an apron. Mirroring her movements and creating a symmetrical composition, directly across from her is an older gentleman with a pipe in his right hand. In the background, directly in front of the window, a small, thin boy participates in the festivities by dancing on top of a table. Illuminating this joyous evening is a large, lit, fireplace as well as a candle on top of the mantle. Portraits, chairs pushed against the walls and a clock lining the wall remind the viewer of the space’s domestic character.

Personal Description

The fifteen individuals packed into this small space make this image extraordinarily crowded.   The source of the music is also conspicuously absent. The occasion for this dance and the individual identities of these people are also missing pieces of contextual information that the viewer cannot visually access. One might infer that these constitute free blacks from their fancy dress and participation in an activity of leisure.  All that the viewer can know for sure, however, about this image is that there is a group of black people dancing. In this way, it contains elements of caricature, as it reduces black identity to dance. Still, there are other dichotomies exist in this image. First, the artist chose not to create a grotesque illustration scene of debauchery that would have been more in line with the hypersexualized, revival-esque dance with which African-Americans were associated. Instead, the illustrator drew a restrained scene of civilized dance. This is, however, punctured by anomalies. A woman dances with food on her head and a boy dances on top of a table. Other characters are not clearly adults or children, straddling a strange space between youth and maturation.  It is as if the artist wanted to suggest that they can’t quite get it right. Thus, this image combines subtle stereotyping with an indirect critique of middle-class African-American life.

Reality Check

Reality Check - Walking for Dat Cake - Schomburg Digital Image Archive

Sketch from February 26, 1870 Harper’s Weekly

“There are now about one hundred buildings occupied by the schools of this [New York] city.  While all of these buildings are convenient and healthful, the newer buildings are a great improvement on those erected in former years.  They have been constructed on the best principles of arrangement, fitted with conveniences for teachers and pupils, supplied with the best kind of furniture, and are warmed and ventilated by the best apparatus.  They vary in size, some occupying only two lots, other six or seven.  It has been found that large buildings are much more economical and convenient than small ones; and not infrequently two thousand pupils, and even a larger number are well accommodated.

The sketches that illustrate this article will give the reader a very complete idea of the internal arrangements of our common schools.  The first gives an exterior view of one of the school buildings; No. 2 shows a lesson in object teaching in a class-room in a colored school; No. 3 a girls’ class in calisthenics; No. 4, a girls’ class in drawing; No. 5, a writing lesson.  These sketches were all taken from actual scenes and are accurate representations of them.”

Plantation Dance; Burlesque

Plantation Dance

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

Title of Song:  Plantation Dance; Burlesque

Composer:  Pattison, J.N. (John Nelson), 1845-1905

Performer: Pattison, J.N. (John Nelson), 1845-1905

Illustrator: Teller

Engraver and Lithographer: Clayton

Publisher:  C.M. Tremaine

Year & Place:  1867, New York, New York

Collection/Call Number/Copies:  Music B-930

Historic American Sheet Music Item #: b0930

Basic Description
Two African American men prance in a bucolic setting. One plays a banjo and nimbly lifts his foot in dance.  The other skips in a sprightly, child-like way, and has an almost cherubic look. Their frolicsome poses differ greatly from the elastic, disjointed maneuvers of T.D. Rice’s “Jumping Jim Crow.” A Big House and what appear to be slave quarters or barn in the backdrop are visible reminders of toil and suffering, but the structures appear flat, as if part of a stage set. Their diminished presence suggests that this enchanted moment of dance and music is an absorbing escape for its participants. But the viewer can see how compromised and regulated this moment is, allowable only because it is under surveillance. There is a sense of enclosure and lock-down; the barn-like structure visible between the men links them as figures but also circumscribes them. A mass of what could be brambles limits their movements to the right of the frame. The men’s clothing–the billowy shirt and tall boots of the childlike man in particular–could equally place them in seventeenth-century Western Europe as in the antebellum South. The use of the word “Burlesque” in the song title plays in to this pretension; as a form of theater, burlesque was linked to Victorian popular culture and renditions of Shakespeare’s plays in a burlesque style.

Personal Description
The social life of African American slaves is romanticized; it is made to appear so rewarding that the oppression and sorrow of slavery is just a side note next to all the gaiety. Although the illusion relies on the association of African American slaves with some positive traits (artistic talents and agility), it also suggests that they are childlike and see their surroundings through an Arcadian lens. The title of the song and the use of the word “burlesque,” associated with comedic theater, makes light of the brutal conditions of slave life in a vulgar and abusive way. It is damaging and unethical because it minimizes and downplays the effects of a grossly unjust system. This imagery converts this injustice into a comedic form of entertainment for popular consumption, therefore perpetuating the impulse to dismiss or ignore the conditions of slave life.

Reality Check

Charles L. Reason (1818-1893)
Charles Lewis Reason was born July 21, 1818 in New York City to West Indies immigrants Michiel and Elizabeth Reason. Charles attended the African Free School along with his brothers Elmer and Patrick. An excellent student in mathematics, Reason became an instructor in 1832 at the school at age fourteen, receiving a salary of $25 a year. He used some of his earnings to hire tutors to improve his knowledge. Later, he decided to enter the ministry but was rejected because of his race by the General Theological Seminary of the Protestant Episcopal church in New York City. Reason rejected such “sham Christianity” and resigned in protest from St. Philip’s Church, the congregation sponsoring his application. Undaunted by Episcopal racism, he studied next at McGrawville College in McGraw, New York.

Reason aided in drafting a call to the first New York State Convention of Negroes in 1840 and advocated in New York City a manual-labor school to provide training in the industrial arts. He created a normal (teaching) school as a remedy to the charge that black teachers were inefficient and incompetent. He decided to pursue a career in teaching, believing strongly that education was the best means for black advancement.

In 1849 Reason became the first African American to hold a professorship at a predominantly white American college when he was hired as professor of belles lettres, Greek, Latin, and French and adjunct professor of mathematics at the integrated New York Central College in McGrawville (Cortland County), New York only to resign in 1852 in order to become the first principal of Philadelphia’s Institute for Colored Youth (1852-56) [now Cheyney University of PA].  In 1873 he headed the successful movement to outlaw segregation in New York schools.

When Reason resigned in 1892, he held the longest tenure in the school system.
Reason was also active politically throughout his life. He was committed to the antislavery cause and worked unceasingly for improvement of black civil rights.

Source: http://www.math.buffalo.edu/mad/index.html, Mathematicians of the African Diaspora, Mathematics Department, State University of New York at Buffalo


"Slave Life," or "Uncle Tom's Cabin"

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

Title of Song:  “Slave Life, or Uncle Tom’s Cabin”

Composer:  Charles Jeffreys

Publisher:  C. Jeffreys

Year & Place:  1853, London, England

Collection/Call Number/Copies:  hasmsm006

Historic American Sheet Music Item #: hasmsm006

Basic Description

The focus of this lithograph is a black woman with plaited hair holding a small, elegantly-dressed white boy in her arms.  The woman’s strapless and sleeveless dress — pleated and ill-fitting, as if improvised from window curtains or bed linen — reveals her supple arms and upper torso.

Personal Description

No doubt referencing the passages in Uncle Tom’s Cabin where Topsy playfully drapes herself in assorted linens and towels, this image subliminally turns this woman and her dress into a metaphoric bed, in which the slumbering child curls up. Performed in blackface by the white actress “Mrs. Keeley”, this Topsy is maternal rather than impish, and would not have been out of place in a Victorian-era colonial setting such as India, South Africa, or Jamaica.

Reality Check


Mary Seacole (1805-1881)

Mary Seacole was born Mary Jane Grant in Kingston, Jamaica. Her father was a Scottish soldier, and her Jamaican mother was a practitioner of traditional medicine and had a boarding house where she cared for the sick. Mary learned about medicine from her mother, soon gaining her own reputation as a “skilful nurse and doctress”.

In 1836 Mary married Edwin Horatio Hamilton Seacole, godson of the British naval hero, Lord Nelson, but after only eight years the marriage was cut short by his early death.  Mary travelled widely – there were two trips to Britain and, in 1851, she joined her brother Edward in Panama, where she opened a hotel. Soon she had saved her first cholera patient, and gained extensive knowledge of the pathology of this disease, which she herself had contracted and recovered from. She was widely praised for her work in treating cholera, and returned to Jamaica in 1853.

She then traveled again to London, where she heard about the Crimean war and how the nursing system there had collapsed. She made applications to the War Office, the army medical department, and the secretary of war to be allowed to go to the Crimea and tend to the sick and wounded. She pointed out that she had extensive experience, excellent references and knew many of the soldiers and regiments, having nursed them while they were stationed in Jamaica.  But she was turned away by everybody, including one of Florence Nightingale’s assistants.

Seacole and a relative of hers agreed to launch a general store and hotel near the British camp in the Crimea. So, at the age of 50, Mary went to the battle zone as a sutler: a person who follows the army and sells provisions to the troops. The moment she arrived there were sick and wounded to attend to. Soon the entire British army knew of “Mother Seacole.” The assistant surgeon of the 90th Light Infantry watched with admiration as she would administer to the soldiers, giving them tea and food and words of comfort. She was often on the front line and frequently under fire. Mary Seacole’s reputation after the Crimean War rivaled that of Florence Nightingale’s.

The end of the war left Seacole impoverished and, soon thereafter, she went bankrupt. Lord Rokeby and Lord Paget, both Crimean commanders, organized a benefit at the Royal Surrey Gardens to raise money for Mary. In 1857, Mary published her autobiography, The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in many lands. She was awarded a Crimean medal, and a bust was made of her by Prince Victor of Hohenlohe-Langenburg, sculptor and nephew of Queen Victoria. The last 25 years of her life, however, were spent in obscurity.