Tag Archives: couples



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

Title of Song:  “Good Enough!”

Composer:  Rollin Howard

Engraver: Clayton’s

Lithographer:  Chicago Lithographing

Publisher:  Lyon & Healy

Year & Place:  1871, Chicago, Illinois

Collection/Call Number/Copies:  Music B-498

Historic American Sheet Music Item #:  b0498

Basic Description

A dancing, high-kicking couple are shown in an interior space.  Upon closer inspection it appears as if the woman is wearing a nineteenth-century styled slip and petticoats, which is further suggested by the hoop-skirt frame sitting on the table behind her, and in the shelving and racks in the room holding linen, socks, and possibly other forms of apparel.  Both the man and the woman wear big, black brogans and garishly striped stockings.

Personal Description

The abandonment which is expressed in this couple’s dance moves, along with her undressed state, his clown-like outfit, and their shared gnome-like, diabolical features, all conveyed a kind of idiocy and madness surrounding African Americans that, in the post-Reconstruction era, contributed towards the complete dismantling of what few legal rights and social courtesies black still had circa 1871.

Reality Check


John Jones (1816-1879) & Mary Richardson Jones (1819-1910)

John Jones – tailor, writer, and politician – was born in 1816 in Green City, North Carolina to a German father and an African American mother.  Born free, he taught himself to read and write, started his own tailoring business, and eventually became one of the wealthiest African Americans in the antebellum United States.

While working as a tailor in Memphis, Tennessee in 1841, John Jones met Mary Jane Richardson, the daughter of a free African American blacksmith.  Although the Richardson family shortly thereafter moved to Alton, Illinois, Jones remained in Memphis for three years to complete the requirements of his apprenticeship.  In 1844 Jones moved to Alton and married Mary Jane Richardson.  Although they were free, both John and Mary obtained certificates of freedom, posted a $1,000 bond in Madison County, and gained the privileges of traveling and living in the state.

After moving to Chicago in 1845, the highly skilled tailor soon had a thriving enterprise, catering to many of Chicago’s elites.  By 1860 Jones’s business was one of the city’s oldest and most financially solvent, having accumulated between $85,000 and $100,000.  The great Chicago fire of 1871 affected his wealth, yet he was left with enough money to be called one of the country’s wealthiest African Americans and Chicago’s undisputed black leader.

Jones used his house and his office, both located on Dearborn Street, as stops on the Underground Railroad through Chicago.  His home was known as a meeting place for local and national abolitionist leaders including Frederick Douglass and John Brown.  He also authored a number of influential anti-slavery pamphlets.  Mary Richardson Jones was also a suffragette, and leaders in the suffrage movement such as Susan B. Anthony stayed in the Jones’ home when visiting Chicago.

Although a dedicated abolitionist, John Jones also actively campaigned against racial discrimination as expressed in the Black Laws of Illinois.  Jones dedicated a considerable amount of his wealth to overturn Illinois laws that denied voting rights to black men and banned them from testifying in court.  His efforts were successful in 1865 when the Illinois Legislature repealed the Black Laws restricting civil rights.  Five years later, in 1870, after ratification of the 15th Amendment, Jones and other Illinois black men also voted for the first time.  In 1871, in the aftermath of the Great Chicago Fire, Jones was elected to the Cook County Commission on the Union Fire Proof ticket, becoming the first African American officeholder in the state’s history.  While holding this post, he helped enact the law that abolished segregated schools.

Reelected to a full three-year term in 1872, Jones was defeated in his 1875 reelection bid.  John Jones died on May 31, 1879, and was buried at Graceland Cemetery in Cook County, Illinois.  Mary Richardson Jones died in 1910, and is also buried at Graceland Cemetery.


Lucinda Cinda Jane

Lucinda Cinda Jane

Lucinda Cinda Jane

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

Title of Song:    Lucinda – Cinda – Jane

Composer:         Hart, Joseph (Hart & De Mar)

Illustrator:        American Lithographic

Publisher:          Schubert Piano Company

Year & Place:   1894; New York, New York

Collection/Call Number/Copies:                 Music B-864

Historic American Sheet Music Item #:   hasm.b0864

Basic Description

This cover depicts a portrait of a couple in a circular frame. This is centered against a floral and botanical background reminiscent of an arabesque pattern. The intertwined green broad-leafed plants and orange and purple flowers are also situated within a pale yellow background. With their heads leaning towards each other, the male and female subjects slightly open their mouths to reveal cloying, wide-toothed smiles as they look into each others eyes. On the left, the woman wears her hair in soft, full curls with a beaded headband and a large blue ribbon. Around her neck is a gold-toned necklace with a heart-shaped pendant. Because the couple is only shown from the shoulders upward, very little of the woman’s garments show. The viewer is only able to see the sheer fabric of the bodice and two large red ribbons at each shoulder. Her male partner in this image wears a black blazer with a blue and white striped shirt and a black-and-white polka-dot bow. Each of these figures has abnormally bright red lips and the whites of their eyes and teeth pop out of the image.

Personal Description

This image is striking on many levels. These portraits show two busts. In other words, most of the body is invisible. Other inaccessible pieces of information include their individual identities as well as their relationship to each other. The two characters seem as though they have been smiling for too long. Their smiles seem forced, fake and overdone. The two seem too happy and simultaneously, suffering from fatigue.  What is most bothersome about this image is its visual connections to minstrelsy. In particular, the saturated red color of the lips recalls the archetypal minstrel mask. The large, toothy, saccharine smiles work in the exact same way. What does it mean that the artist connects these two blacks with this type of masking? What does it mean that they are surrounded or framed by a flat pattern of leaves, plants and other phenomena from the natural world?

Reality Check

Susan Maria Smith McKinney

Susan Maria Smith McKinney Steward (1847-1918) and William G. McKinney

Born in Brooklyn, New York, Susan Maria Smith was the first black woman to graduate from medical college in New York state. After graduating as valedictorian from the New York Medical College for Women, she attended the Long Island Medical College Hospital, where she was the only woman in the entire college.

Married in 1874 to the Rev. William G. McKinney.  McKinney was an Episcopal minister originally from South Carolina. The couple lived in Steward’s parents’ home until 1874, when they moved to a predominantly white area of Brooklyn. McKinney was 17 years older than his wife. The couple had two children: Anna, who became a schoolteacher, and William Sylvanus, who, like his father, became an Episcopal priest. The family lived comfortably in Brooklyn.

In 1881, while the couple was still together, Smith McKinney co-founded the Women’s Hospital & Dispensary in Brooklyn, which later became the Memorial Hospital for Women and Children. She served on the staff of the New York Medical College and Hospital for Women in Manhattan, and from 1892 to 1896 was manager of the medical staff of the Brooklyn Home for Aged Colored People. She also served as church organist and choir director for Brooklyn’s Bridge Street Church.  In 1890, William McKinney suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and was unable to maintain his normal work schedule. Steward supported the family, as well as six of her relatives who lived in the McKinney home. William McKinney died on November 24, 1895 when Steward was 48.His wife practiced as Dr. Susan Smith McKinney until his death in 1896.

(Source: http://www.answers.com/topic/susan-mckinney-steward; http://www.aetna.com/foundation/aahcalendar/1986steward.html)

This image is striking on many levels.  These portraits show two busts.  In other words, most of the body is invisible.  Other inaccessible pieces of information include their individual identities as well as their relationship to each other.  The two characters seem as though they have been smiling for too long.  Their smiles seem forced, fake and overdone.  The two seem too happy.  What is most bothersome about this image is its visual connections to minstrelsy.  In particular, the saturated red color of the lips recalls the archetypal minstrel mask.  The large, toothy, saccharine smiles work in the exact same way.  What does it mean that the artist connects these two blacks with this type of masking?  What does it mean that they are surrounded or framed by a flat pattern of leaves, plants and other phenomena from the natural world?

Hello Ma Baby

743 - Hello Ma Baby

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

Title of Song:        Hello Ma Baby

Composer:            Howard, Joseph E.

Publisher:             T.B. Harms

Year & Place:       1899; New York, New York

Collection/Call Number/Copies:                Music #743

Historic American Sheet Music Item #:   hasm.n0743

Basic Description
The space of this lithograph is dominated by the text “Hello Ma Baby” written diagonally in large bold letters. In the upper left-hand corner is an African-American wearing a black jacket. He holds a telephone up to his ear and his mouth is slightly ajar indicating he is speaking. In the bottom, right corner of the pictorial space, a woman in a large hat, a printed blouse, a short black cape and a skirt fastened tightly around her waist. Holding a phone to her ear, the woman is engaged in a conversation. Visually linking these two characters are long, perpendicular faintly rendered wires lining the upper right corner of the image. These are connected to a telephone pole strengthening the notion that the male and female are speaking to each other. The title of the piece and its colloquial expression “ma baby” also suggests that the two subjects have an intimate relationship.

Personal Description

The apparent neutrality of this pastoral image stands in striking contrast to some of the grotesque, caricature-ish imagery of other covers from this century.  And one wonders where the humor and caricature-ish elements exist.  If this is apart of a performance that would accompany the music, one wonders where the performativity lies.

Reality Check

Lewis Latimer (1848-1928)
Lewis Latimer was an engineer and inventor born in Chelsea, Massachusetts. He was the son of George W. Latimer, a barber, and Rebecca Smith, both former slaves who escaped from Norfolk Virginia in 1842. When not attending Phillips Grammar School In Boston, Latimer spent much of his youth working at his father’s barber shop, as a paper-hanger, and selling the abolitionist newspaper The Liberator.  Latimer’s family was placed in dire financial straits when his father mysteriously disappeared. Latimer and his brothers were bound out to a farm school for unpaid labor.  They escaped and moved back to Boston, and Latimer enlisted in the U.S. Navy late in the Civil War. In 1865, he was honorably discharged and began a technical career in Boston as an office worker for Crosby and Gould patent solicitors. Through his assiduous efforts to teach himself the art of drafting, he rose to assistant draftsman and eventually to the position of chief draftsman in the mid-1870s. He met a young woman at this time, named Mary Wilson Lewis, whom he married in 1873. They had two children.
Latimer began to invent during his tenure at Crosby and Gould. His first creation was a water closet for railway cars He drafted the diagrams for Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone patent application, which was approved in 1876.
In 1879, Latimer relocated to Bridgeport, Connecticut, and was hired by the U.S. Electric Lighting Company as a draftsman and private secretary. He was soon placed in charge of the production of carbon lamp filaments.  He was an integral part of the team that installed the company’s first commercial incandescent lighting system in the Equitable Building in New York City, in the fall of 1880.
In 1883, Latimer began working at Edison Electric Company. According to Latimer’s biographical sketch of himself for the Edison pioneers, he was transferred to the department “as a draughtsman inspector and expert witness as to facts in the early stages of the electric lighting business…[He] traveled extensively, securing witnesses’ affidavits, and early apparatus, and also testifying to the number of the basic patent cases to the advantage of his employers.” His complete knowledge of electrical technology was exemplified in his work Incandescent Electric Lighting, a Practical Description of the Edison System of 1890.
A stroke in 1924 forced Latimer to retire and he spent much of his last four years engaged in other activities important in his life, such as art and poetry. He died at his home in Flushing, New York, which in 1995 was made a New York City landmark.
(Source: African American Lives, edited by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, Oxford University Press, 2004)

Kingdom Coming

Kingdom Coming

Kingdom Coming

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

Title of Song:     Kingdom Coming

Composer:         Bryant, Dan

Publisher:         Charles Magnus & Co

Year & Place:   New York, New York

Collection/Call Number/Copies:               Bsvg 301458

Historic American Sheet Music Item #:  bsvg.301458

Basic Description

The image at the top of this broadside shows a male and a female of dark skin walking together arm in arm.  The man wears a straw hat, a white collared shirt and blue overalls.  His partner in this leisurely jaunt sports a long red dress, a matching straw hat and she is wrapped in a blue shawl.  For their large, rotund bodies, they are supported tenuously by unusually small feet.  The viewer is offered little specific information about their identities.  The background depicts a massive body of water littered sporadically with a large ship or a barge.  Each has tall structures and bright red flags wave from their peaks of several.  The variable shaded formations in the area of the sky and the horizon are too nebulous to certain of what they are or their function.  In pale orange there appear to be mountains, while grey and black could be smoke.  This coloring could also, however, reflect damage to the print.

Personal Description

Ambivalence and ambiguity abound in this image.   There is not enough information presented to determine the origin or destination of the ships nor the details of the cargo aboard.  The combination of the viewer’s vantage point behind the couple as well as the lack of any recognizable facial features prevent them from approaching individuality.  This suggests that the couple does not represent any specific black male or female.  In tandem with their abnormally small feet, and their large round bodies, discussed in the music’s lyrics, this piece has an element of caricature and malicious humor.  When read with the poem or song, the image might be construed as a moment of subversion in which the masters have run away in fear of the gunboats and Kingdom, or rightful order or things where anyone can take a stroll, has come.

Reality Check

One of the most remarkable exceptions is this painting by the leading mid-century figure painter Eastman Johnson.  Born in 1824 in Lovell, Maine, Eastman Johnson took to art early in life, setting up a portrait studio in Augusta when he was 18 years old. He later worked in Boston and Washington, D.C., and in 1849 traveled to Europe where he received extensive training in drawing and painting.  In 1859, Johnson opened an exhibit in New York which featured Negro Life in the South. It was a turning point in his career — one which would lead to his becoming, for many years, the foremost genre painter in the United States.

During and even immediately after the Civil War, very few American artists undertook direct representations of the catastrophic conflict or of the experience of the enslaved African Americans whose plight it decided. He claimed to have based the subject on an actual event he had witnessed near the Manassas, Virginia, battlefield on March 2, 1862, just days before the Confederate stronghold was ceded to Union forces. This painting, A Ride for Liberty depicts a black family fleeing toward freedom. It is based on an incident which Johnson witnessed during the Civil War battle of Manassas.  The mother, holding a small child in her arms, looks back apprehensively for possible pursuers.  In this powerfully simplified composition, a family of fugitive slaves charges for the safety of Union lines in the dull light of dawn. The absence of white figures in this liberation subject makes it virtually unique in American art of the period—these African Americans are the independent agents of their own freedom. Perhaps owing to the exceptional daring of the subject, Johnson appears never to have exhibited this work.

(Source: http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/opencollection/objects/495/A_Ride_for_Liberty_–_The_Fugitive_Slaves)



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

Title of Song:  “Under de Mango Tree”

Composer:  Edward Greey

Illustrator:  C. Lyall

Lithographer:  Hounslow

Publisher:  Wm. A. Pond

Year & Place:  1872, New York, NY

Collection/Call Number/Copies:  Music B-280

Historic American Sheet Music Item #:  b0280

Basic Description

A woman and man are shown underneath a fruit-filled tree.  The woman — with her skirt inexplicably hiked above waist and bundled between her and the tree trunk she’s leaning against — demurely lowers her head, while the man — whose head looks like a cross between a Valentine’s Day heart and Mephistopheles from Gounod’s opera Faust — lunges towards her with pleading gestures.

Personal Description

Difficulties in love are a frequent topic for visual satirists and, yet, the visual allusions here to seductive nymphs and lust-filled satyrs (re: the man’s cloven-like feet) are further compounded by the racializing and tropicalizing of Eros in this lithograph.

Reality Check



Henry Highland Garnet (1815-1882) & Sarah J. Smith Thompkins Garnet (1831-1911)

Born into slavery near New Markey, Maryland, Henry Highland Garnet escaped from bondage via the Underground Railroad with his parents, George and Henrietta Trusty in 1824.  After residing briefly in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, the family settled in New York City where the family name was changed to Garnet.

Henry attended the African Free School, which was one of several schools established in northeastern cities by white philanthropists.  His classmates included several future black abolitionist leaders such as Alexander Crummell, Samuel Ringgold Ward, and James McCune Smith.  While Henry Garnet was at sea working as a cabin boy and cook, his parents narrowly escaped slave catchers.  After he returned home, Garnet suffered a debilitating leg injury that plagued him for the rest of his life.  He found solace in the church and joined the First Colored Presbyterian Church in New York where he also found a community of abolitionists.

In the decades leading up to the Civil War, Henry Highland Garnet pursued manifold careers in the ministry, education, and in abolitionist activities.  In 1843 Garnet became nationally prominent when he delivered an address at the National Negro Convention meeting in Buffalo, New York, urging slaves to rebel and claim their own freedom.  In 1864 Garnett became pastor of the Fifteenth Street Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C.  On Sunday, February 12, 1865 Garnet preached a sermon in the U.S. House of Representatives.  Although he did not address Congress, his presentation was the first by an African American in the Capitol Building.

In 1868 Garnet moved to Pittsburgh where he briefly served as President of Avery College, a school of religious education for African Americans.  Originally an opponent of the colonization movement, by the mid-nineteenth century Garnet shifted his support to the migration of black Americans to Liberia.  In 1881 President James A. Garfield appointed Garnet minister (re: ambassador) to Liberia.  Garnet moved to the West African nation but died two months after his arrival.

Sarah Smith Tompkins Garnet was the first African American female principal in the New York public schools.  The eldest of eleven children, she was born Minsarah Smith in Brooklyn in 1831.  Her parents were prosperous farmers, and one of her sisters, Susan Smith McKinney Steward (1847-1918), was the first African American female in New York state to graduate with the M.D. degree.

In 1854 Smith Tompkins taught at the African Free School of Williamsburg (Brooklyn).  In 1863 she was appointed principal of Grammar School Number Four (later named Public School Number Eighty-One) and Public School Number Eighty. She remained in that dual position until she retired in 1900, the year New York repealed a law allowing separate schools for African Americans and whites.  In 1879, she married Henry Highland Garnet.  She was widowed again when Henry Highland Garnet died in 1882.

An active supporter of woman suffrage and African American civil rights, Smith Thompkins Garnet was also a businesswoman.  She owned a seamstress shop in Brooklyn from 1883 to 1911.  In the late 1880s, Garnet helped found the Equal Suffrage Club, a Brooklyn-based club for black women.  Sarah Garnet also served as superintendent of the Suffrage Department of the National Association of Colored Women.  Garnet supported the Niagara Movement, a predecessor to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (N.A.A.C.P.).  In 1911, Garnet accompanied her sister, Susan Smith McKinney Steward, to London, England, for the first Universal Races Congress.  Just weeks after she returned from Europe, Garnet died at home, at the age of 88.


Drat dat Mewel

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

Title of Song:  “Drat dat Mewel!”

Composer:  Carl Walters

Lyricist: George Russell Jackson

Publisher:  White-Smith

Year & Place:  1893, Boston, Massachusetts

Collection/Call Number/Copies:  Music B-321

Historic American Sheet Music Item #:  b0321

Basic Descripton

A caricatured couple, black-skinned and white-lipped, struggle to maintain composure, and to control a harnessed, yet swift-footed and bolting mule.  The diagonal, upper-left-to-lower-right orientation of the scene contributes to its sense of movement, as do the peripheral top hat and watermelon flying through in the air and the two birds attempting to get out of the mule’s path.

Personal Description

Reminiscent of Currier and Ives’ notorious “Darktown” series (for which scenes of hapless blacks riding in out-of-control, horse- and mule-drawn carts were a recurring theme), this lithograph offers very little in the way of an artistically different or original “take” on racially-tinged slapstick. The bold (and also diagonally oriented) title “DRAT DAT MEWEL!” is the one pictorial element which, in tandem with the illustration, achieves a kind of fresh intervention into visual racist discourse, by way of a combination linguistic/pictorial assault.

Reality Check


Nellie Brown Mitchell (1845-1924) & Charles L. Mitchell (1829-1912)

Nellie Brown Mitchell was born in Dover, New Hampshire.  While in Dover she studied with Caroline Bracket, who encouraged her to pursue professional singing.  Her career as a soprano soloist began at the Free-Will Baptist Church, an Anglo-American Church, in 1865.  In 1872, she left Free-Will Baptist to serve as soloist to Grace Church in Haverhill, Massachusetts.  She remained there until 1876, briefly returned to Dover, and then served as musical director from 1879 to 1886 at the Bloomfield Street Church in Boston, Massachusetts.  While in Massachusetts, Brown studied voice at the New England Conservatory and the School of Vocal Arts.  She received her diploma in 1879.

In 1874 Brown gave a series of successful recitals in Boston, and made her New York debut at Steinway Hall.  In 1882 she debuted in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  From 1882 to 1885 Brown was “prima-donna soprano” with James Bergen’s Star Concerts.  She resigned from her church position in 1886 and devoted her time to a concert career and her newly formed Nellie Brown Mitchell Concert Company.

During the 1880s and into the 1890s Brown reached the peak of her musical accomplishments.  She was considered by many to be one of the greatest African American singers.  She concertized often throughout the East Coast and the Middle West and, for many summers, taught at the Hedding Chautauqua Summer School in East Epping, New Hampshire.  In the early 1880s Brown Mitchell invented and placed into U.S. patent the phoneterion: “an instrument used to reduce muscular tension in the voice.”  In the 1890s she retired from the concert stage and focused on private instruction, advertising the “Guilmette Method” of vocal technique.  She died in Boston in January of 1924.

Her husband, Charles L. Mitchell, was a prominent black New Englander, and a Massachusetts state legislator in the 1860s.  Born in Hartford, Connecticut, Mitchell spent his youth in Boston, apprenticed to a local printer.  In the 1850s he worked in the offices of The Liberator with abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, and continued in that capacity until the Civil War erupted, when he enlisted with the all African American, Fifty-fifth Massachusetts Regiment.

His involvement in the 1864 Battle of Honey Hill (in which 89 members of the Union forces were killed) resulted in him being severely wounded and losing a foot.  At the end of the War, Mitchell returned to Boston and, in 1866, was elected to the State Legislature.  In 1876 Mitchell married Nellie Brown.  During this period he also received a clerkship in the U.S. Customs House in Boston, and maintained that position for forty-three years.  Mitchell died in Boston, Massachusetts in 1912.