Tag Archives: weapons


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.


I’ll send you down a Letter from de Sky

I'll send you down a letter from de sky

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

Title of Song:  “I’ll send you down a Letter from de Sky”

Composer:  M.H. Rosenfeld

Lithographer:  Endicott

Publisher:  Hitchcock’s Music Store

Year & Place:  1884, New York, NY

Collection/Call Number/Copies:  Music B-620

Historic American Sheet Music Item #:  b0620

Basic Description

A razor-wielding man is, ostensibly, being thrust upward into the sky by a high-kicking mule in this lithograph.  Residual disarray from the “ass-kicking” is reflected in several chickens, helplessly fluttering in the clouds.  The sheet music’s highly decorative title is further embellished (in the word “I’ll”) by a diminutive, banjo-playing mule, dressed in an Elizabethan blouse and plumed head gear.

Personal Description

The operative sensibility is chaos, exemplified in the unbridled and out-of-control mule, the wild-eyed, razor-toting black man, and the fluttering chickens.  Still, the man’s uplifted razor is treated almost like a military standard or banner, as if signifying what the entire scene is really all about: base weaponry and sleazy trauma.

Reality Check


Frank Hart (aka “Black Dan”) (1858-1908)

In the late 1870s and early 1880s, endurance foot-racing gripped the United States and Great Britain.  The participants in these events were called pedestrians, and they were free to run or walk around an indoor track for as long as they could stay on their feet.  The top pedestrians survived on less than four hours of sleep a day and slept on cots inside the track’s oval.  Fans avidly followed these six-day contests and, frequently, placed bets on prospective winners.

In the early 1880s, an African American pedestrian stood atop this international craze.  His given name was Fred Hichborn but he changed it to Frank Hart when he turned professional.  Hart was born in Haiti in 1858, immigrated to the United States in the 1870s, and soon thereafter began working in a grocery store in Boston Massachusetts.  As the pedestrian craze swept the nation, he began competing in local events.  Hart competed in the international Astley Belt competitions, and set an American record when he won the Rose Belt in New York’s Madison Square Garden in December 1879.

Hart won the prestigious O’Leary Belt competition on April 10, 1880, smashing the world record after covering 565 miles in six days of racing.  He earned about $17,000 in prize money for that competition.  As the race ended, he waved an American flag to thousands of cheering fans who packed Madison Square Garden.   Another African American, William Pegram of Boston finished second with 540 miles.

Hart earned the nickname “Black Dan” from his association with Daniel O’Leary, an Irish immigrant and sports promoter who financed Hart during his professional career.  In later years, Hart played professional baseball in a Chicago Negro league. Hart died in Chicago in 1908.

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.)

The Invalid Corps

The Invalid Corps

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

Title of Song:  The Invalid Corps

Composer:      Wilder, Frank

Illustrator:      Bufford, J. H.

Publisher:        Henry S. Tolman

Year & Place:  1863; Boston, Massachusetts

Collection/Call Number/Copies:               Music B-1084

Historic American Sheet Music Item #:  hasm.b1084

Basic Description

This lithograph depicts six male soldiers standing in a row.  While these soldiers occupy the center of the pictorial space, a flag waves in the background and there are trees etched faintly. Four out of six men suffer from a physical injury either to a leg or an arm.  Two play drums on the far sides of the composition while a man in wearing a sling on his right arm engages in conversation with knock-kneed soldier to his right.  Some carry bayonet guns while others have swords.  Whereas most of the men wear official army garments, two wear clothing that is undifferentiated from that which a civilian might wear.

Personal Description

The visual strategy here in combination with the song’s title attempts to create a logical rationalization for the supposed disability of blackness.  In other words, to convey the handicap of being a Negro, the object’s creator rendered a situation that would unequivocally signal weakness or lack of ability.  It is almost as if, the simple presence of whites in blackface would not communicate this message in clear nor a funny manner.  Here, the artist visually conflates the disability of the body with blackness, implying that a black regiment literally cannot fight in a war.  They are literally, in-valid.

Reality Check

54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment

The 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment was a group of black soldiers of African that served in the civil war.  One of the first black regiments to be recruited in the North, its incipience was the result of the urgings of Frederick Douglas.  Under Governor John Andrew, the regiment was created in February of 1863 with twenty-one officers and four-hundred men.  It was led by Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, a white male who was the son of New York abolitionists.  The group was dominated by free black males who had been, as civilians, printers, blacksmiths, mechanics and carpenters.  They came from states in the South, the North and Canada.  Depicted here are first sergeant Jeremiah Rolls of Ohio; corporal Abram Simms, George Lipscomb of Ohio, Sergeant Thomas Bowman of Ohio, Corporal Isom Ampey; and Sergeant Major John H. Wilson of North Carolina.  The group received notice to report to battle in South Carolina in May of 1863 and these men were just a few of those who fought in the noted battle at Fort Wagner.  During this fight Wilson was wounded.  Bowman was wounded later in a battle in Florida in 1864.


Greene, Robert Ewell. Swamp Angels : A Biographical Study of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment : True Facts about the Black Defenders of the Civil War. Washington, D.C.: BoMark/Greene Pub. Group, 1990.

Burchard, Peter. “We’ll Stand by the Union” : Robert Gould Shaw and the Black 54th Massachusetts Regiment. New York: Facts on File, 1993.

May Irwin’s BULLY SONG

May Irwin's Bully Song

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

Title of Song:  “May Irwin’s Bully Song”

Composer:  Charles E. Trevathan

Illustrator:  Davenport

Lithographer:  Forbes

Publisher:  The New York Journal

Year & Place:  1896, New York, NY

Collection/Call Number/Copies:  Music #572 no. 8

Historic American Sheet Music Item #:  n0572.8

Basic Description

Full color lithograph of a grotesque man, who is outrageously dressed, carries a razor in one hand, and appears as if walking.  His beady eyes, sagging jowls, and red, everted lips are more simian-like than human.  All of his clothes are ill-fitting: his tiny hat seems almost too petite for his ugly, little head; his broad-striped shirt and polka dot tie literally dwarf his bulging torso; his buttoned up, blue plaid jacket is tightly wrapped around his protruding buttocks; and his pin-striped trousers, dirty white spats, and shoes are baggy, loose-fitting, and rundown, respectively.

Personal Description

One can only imagine what black people in 1896 thought when, after purchasing The New York Journal that April 12 (was it Easter Sunday?), they saw this illustrated supplement.   Although probably accustomed to all sorts of social indignities, many would have found this image especially hurtful, in that it suggested that African Americans were not just socially inept in the ways of fashion and decorum, but constituitively and genetically defective.  The nature of caricature is almost always distortion and ridicule but, in this instance, the picture goes way beyond a light-hearted critique and, instead, proposes, through anatomical and sartorial signs, a physically and mentally unfit race of people.

Reality Check


Philip A. Payton Jr. (1876-1917)

Philip A. Payton Jr. was born February 27, 1876, in Westfield, Massachusetts, the eldest of four children of Philip A. Payton, a barber, and Annie Ryans Payton, a hairdresser.  He attended public schools in Westfield but, in a profile in Booker T. Washington’s 1907 The Negro in Business, Payton admitted to dropping out of high school during his senior year (due to a football injury) and, shortly thereafter, working as a barber.

In 1899 Payton moved to New York City where he had a series of jobs and soon found work as a porter in a real estate office.  In less than a year he decided to start his own real estate business with a partner.  The real estate partnership of Brown & Payton struggled and Brown left during the first year but Payton eventually began to get contracts to manage houses.  In 1903 Payton formed the Afro-American Realty Company, taking advantage of the real estate boom that was occurring in the northern Manhattan community of Harlem.  In 1900 construction began on the subway line extending from New York’s City Hall in lower Manhattan north to 145th Street in Harlem.  Real estate developers like Payton responded by building apartment houses in close proximity to the line.

Philip A. Payton Jr. recognized an opportunity for African Americans in these developments and, in a career that spanned less than twenty years, became known for providing African Americans in New York City with an opportunity to live in quality housing.  As a real estate broker, property manager, and owner, Payton gained a national reputation among African American business leaders during the first decade of the twentieth century.  He died in Allenhurst, New Jersey on August 29, 1917.