Posts Tagged ‘African American history’


I’ve been researching the year 1927 for a project and came across an issue of  The Crisis Magazine for that year. In this issue, several new artists were featured. Even though they were not the focus of my research, I became curious about who these people were and who they became. I knew of Countee Cullen but the others … I began by looking up Blanche Taylor Dickinson. The article in The Crisis notes that she “received honorable mention for her poem, “That Hill,” in The Crisis contest of 1926. Four of her poems have recently been accepted to appear in “Present Day Poets.” She was featured alongside Cullen, Loren R. Miller, Anita Scott Coleman and Eulalie Spence.


Three years earlier, Dickinson had written W. E. B. Du Bois, co-founder and editor of The Crisis. “I am a teacher and a reader of The Crisis but am just becoming a suscriber. You edit a fine magazine and it is a great factor in helping to bring us more and more into the recognition of the opposite race.” Enclosed with the letter were poems but no envelope with return postage because, as Dickinson wrote, if the poems were unacceptable to Du Bois, “you have a waste basket handy I am sure.”

Du Bois read her poems and then sent a reply, despite her lack of return postage. “You have some poetic feelings but are not good enough to publish. You must read more poetry. Buy Rittenhouse’s Little Book of Modern British Verse.”

Dickinson does indeed read Rittenhouse and other compilations. In 1925 she wrote Du Bois once more.

Once before I was ‘nervy’ enough to write you a personal letter and you were kind enough to advise. So pardon this second intrusion and say, ‘She is determined to hold out to the end.’ I have read or you might say studied the book you mentioned … and feel that I have profited thereby. I have made a study of several others, too. Now if I could see a few expressions of mine in our own magazine, CRISIS, I imagine I should feel as I imagine one feels in your own sphere. I am not working for money now but for RECOGNITION. It is unwomanly of me to beg favor of your staff but I do ask please read these lines from the angle of the writer and others less favored and see what you can find in them that deserves criticism or comment.”

Du Bois’s reply? “I do not think that the poems which are enclosed are quite good enough for publication but I do think that the course of study upon which you are embarked is worth while and I hope you will keep it up.”

Dickinson, who’d been writing since childhood, would continue to work at her craft and her poetry would be published in a number of publications during the late 1920s. A little but not a lot is written about her life. Born in 1896 to a prosperous Kentucky farmer, she did well in school (including having her writing published), attended university, became a school teacher and worked as a journalist. She married a truck driver and moved around a bit. In 1929 she interviewed Amelia Earhart for the newspaper, Baltimore Afro-American. In 1930 Dickinson would deliver a speech about “The Cultural Values of Negro Poetry,” but little writing can be found after this time.

Her poetry is quite moving and suggestive of how she (or perhaps women around her) may have felt about life as a woman in the 1920s in general and as an educated African American woman specifically.

“Ah, I know what happiness is …

It is a timid little fawn

Creeping softly up to me

For one caress, then gone

Before I’m through with it …

Away, like dark from dawn!”

— excerpt from poem, A Sonnet and a Rondeau, 1927

Her words can be raw as in this excerpt from, The Good Wife, appearing in a 1932 newspaper, where her words reference the to-this-day divisive issues of class, color and even education level within the African American experience.

All day long

I been sipping suds.

Money making’s mine- 

Money spending’s Bud’s.

Folks keep asking,

How could I

Let a man black as Bud

Take my eye.

I keep rubbing

‘Till my po’ head swim.

‘T ain’t worthwhile to answer

‘Cause Bud ain’t courted them!


Her work can be found online and in print anthologies from and about the period known as the Harlem Renaissance. Blanche Taylor Dickinson died in 1972.

Sources & Additional Reading




Shadowed Dreams: Women of the Harlem Renaissance by Maureen Honey

Kentucky African American Encyclopedia edited by Smith, McDaniel and Hardin, p. 142

New Negro Artists, The Crisis, February 1927, p. 206

The Good Wife, The Greeley Daily Tribune, October 10, 1932, p. 3.

Revelation, https://www.poetrynook.com/poem/revelation-16

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The recipes are good. They are simple, elegant and refined, like the family sharing its history through food.  The preface describes the book as telling the story of five kitchens and three generations of women. “Mother-daughter duo” Alice Randall and Caroline Randall Williams use the book to share stories from the kitchen, a place that could be both forboding and a place of great calm, depending upon one’s generation (e.g. slavery) and one’s location (e.g. north vs. south).  Traditional, mostly southern recipes, are reworked.  Flavoring agents like bacon dripping, ham hocks, and butter are replaced by olive oil, or no oil at all.  But fear not.  As I told my big brother, a traditional southern cook, flavors have been retained if not indeed heightened with the liberal use of spices. My favorite recipes were the simplest like the Warm Onion and Rosemary Salad, Herb-Roasted Salmon Fillet, Fiery Green Beans and Links Salad composed of green beans, green peas, cucumber and basil.

There’s a Homemade Peanut Butter recipe. The authors describe peanut butter “as a bass note that can carry a wide variety of top notes” and encourage users, once comfortable with the basic recipe, to add spices. Be creative. Set no limits.  It’s a sentiment that fits the family.

Many of the book’s recipes from Mama’s Tequila Ice to Eggplant Tower with Mashed White Beans open with brief headnotes that describe the family connection to the dish.  Whether its a variation on a meal served while hosting parties during the Harlem Renaissance or a reworking of a meal had as family members traveled overseas in Yugoslavia, each recipe clearly has meaning.

While its an eclectic mix of recipes, overall the book is quite a culinary inspiration.  The recipes don’t begin until page 80.  Those first seventy-nine pages are a poetic examination of five kitchens, and American history, beginning with Minnie Randall (1897-1976) through Caroline Randall Williams (b. 1987).  Reviewing the book has reawakened my desire to ask family members about their memories of food past and what they’d like to cook in the future.  You don’t need to be of African American heritage to enjoy this book.  It’s an American experience that can be shared, quite deliciously, by all.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this honest review.

More Info …

Author Bios


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… there was a school and on the campus there was a chapel and inside the chapel there was a stained glass window known as The Singing Window.

photo by Carol M. Highsmith

photo by Carol M. Highsmith


Sources and Additional Readings

Learn more about the photographer Carol M. Highsmith on the Library of Congress website: Carol M. Highsmith Archive.

Learn more about Tuskegee University including its tours and the history of the chapel.

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I’d seen the sculpture many times inside Trinity Church but not truly appreciated it. Quite fascinating was the artistry of a man holding a cup, a cup-bearer, but the person depicted had no context for me.  I knew not of his significance in the past or in the present.  There were too many other visuals capturing my attention, like sunlight through stained glass windows.  Only recently have I returned with greater respect to the relief of Elijah Winchester Donald, Rector of Trinity from 1892 until 1904.

Detail of E. Winchester Donald Sculpture by Bela Pratt

I unexpectedly re-discovered the sculpture, and the man depicted, while researching the history of a church thousands of miles away at what is now known as Tuskegee University in Tuskegee, Alabama.

During my research I came across an issue of The Southern Workman, a publication founded in 1872 by General Samuel Chapman Armstrong of Hampton Institute, Hampton, VA.  Armstrong would leave his mark on American history for many reasons, one of which included founding Hampton just after the Civil War. There, a young Booker T. Washington, formerly a slave, would become a student and eventually a teacher. In 1881, when people in Alabama, wanting to start a new institute for black students, reached out to Armstrong for principal recommendations, Armstrong suggested young Washington who applied for the position and got the job.

The August 1895 issue of The Southern Workman made note of Tuskegee’s achievements, including recent receipt of anonymous funds to build a new chapel.  But prior to those funds being received graduation commencement services took place and, the journal describes the event in this way:

Years late, Booker T. Washington would describe the moment in a slightly different way.  In 1901, Washington wrote Up from Slavery, the chronicle of his journey from slavery, his attendance at Hampton and eventual leadership at Tuskegee and well beyond.  As Washington wrote, money had been found to start Tuskegee, with money set aside to pay future instructors, but no provisions had been made for securing land and buildings.

Later in his autobiography, Washington gives his personal recollection of the 1895 Tuskegee commencement in which Dr. Donald spoke:

The chapel would be built, designed by Robert R. Taylor, the first African American graduate of MIT. The chapel would be erected between 1896 and 1898, a structure some scholars say Taylor considered his masterpiece.

Robert R. Taylor

Robert R. Taylor

In 1900 author Max Thrasher wrote: “The building of this chapel illustrates, as well as any one instance can, the methods of the industrial training at Tuskegee.  The plans for the building were drawn by the school’s instructor in architectural and mechanical drawing.  The bricks, one million two hundred thousand in number, were made by students in the school’s brick yard and laid by the men in the brick-laying classes.  The lumber was was cut on the school’s land and sawed in the saw mill on the grounds.  The various wood-working classes did the work which in their departments.  The floor is of oak; all the rest of the finish in in yellow pine, and the use of this wood … The pews were built after a model designed by one of the students, and another student designed the cornices. The tin and slate roofing was put on by students, and the steam heating and electric lighting apparatus was installed by them …” Before his death in 1904, Donald would have an opportunity to speak in this chapel.

Though from two very different backgrounds, Donald and Washington appear to have greatly respected one another. In 1895  Donald established the Trinity Church Oratorical Prize, an award for the best written and best delivered paper on an assigned subject, a student prize that continues at Tuskegee, with different sources of funding, to this day.  For many reasons, Washington often made his way up North, cultivating philanthropists, accepting honorary degrees, attending national conferences, and speaking in places like Trinity.  In 1897 he was invited to deliver an address at the dedication of the Robert Gould Shaw Monument in Boston.  Prior to his arrival, Donald sent him a letter:

In 1901, Donald presented the dedication address for a new campus building at Tuskegee.  In attendance were noted business leaders and philanthropists including George Foster Peabody and John D. Rockefeller Jr. Before them was a magnificent campus, once a few fragile buildings, transformed by student-labor into a thriving educational institute with over 100 hundred instructors and staff, 50 buildings both functional and aesthetic, over 2500 acres of land with solid farming infrastructure and students applying from around the world.

Chemistry Lab 1902

Chemistry Lab 1902

Instructor George Washington Carver

Tuskegee Instructor George Washington Carver

Donald’s dedication address was made just a few decades after the end of the Civil War.  There was still great philosophical debate about what was to become of the millions of African Americans formerly enslaved.  Like Washington, Donald seemed to believe that education and skill building were the key for black people to let go of the past, achieve success in the present, and build a foundation for future excellence.

During the address, Donald would say: “We are in the presence of a fact. Whether or not the negro can be raised to self-respect, industry, thrift and ethical soundness, let the doctrinaires debate. One thing we know, whereas he was blind to his only chance, now he sees. He has only to keep his eyes open and use his chance to rise clean out of the condition into which 200 years of enforced servitude and thirty-five years of stupid, selfish and merciless political exploitation thrust him down.”  His words would become controversial with statements including “an educated negro without a vote is worth infinitely more than ten illiterate white men who vote as often as the polls are open.

Until the end of his days, in person and in writing, Donald would support the efforts of Washington at Tuskegee and those at other Southern black schools educating new generations.  He supported the efforts of many people inside the U.S. and from abroad trying to make social change.  He may have thought he was being militant.

As was said by the Rector of Grace Church in his memory, “his supreme gift was not militancy,–however it may have seemed to some, as well as to himself,–his supreme gift was not militancy, it was sympathy; he gave drink to the thirsty; he satisfied the longing soul; his true emblem was not the claymore, as he fancied, it was the chalice.”

Others stated, “Some of us disagreed with him, some of us thought his positions untenable, but none of us doubted his fraternal regard.”

His memorial was completed January 27, 1907, the bas relief by sculptor Bela Pratt and its setting designed by Donald’s friend, Charles A. Coolidge.

As for that chapel at Tuskegee, it would continue to evolve but that is a story for another day.

Sources & Additional Reading

Up from Slavery by Booker T. Washington

History of Tuskegee (University Website)

Tuskegee: Its History and its Work (1900)

Samuel Chapman Armstrong (Hampton University Website)

MIT Archives – Robert R. Taylor

Bela Pratt Sculpture of E. Winchester Donald

Trinity Church Art & History

The King’s Cup Bearer, Sermon in Memory of E. Winchester Donald, 1904

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