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ejsimage

I tend to think of Emmett Jay Scott as one of those individuals upon whose shoulders giants stand. Though today he is largely unknown, during his lifetime he was a noted author, educator, activist and entrepreneur. For eighteen years he served as personal secretary to Booker T. Washington. He was Washington’s closest adviser, publicist and his friend. I knew of Emmett J. Scott because of previous research into Washington’s life and visually Scott was almost always at his side. Like Frederick Douglass, Washington was a figure well-photographed in his day. I accepted his presence but it wasn’t until  I chanced upon the book, Scott’s Official History of the American Negro in the World War (1919), that I decided to learn more.

book-cover

The title page states that it is a complete and authentic narration, from official sources, of the participation of American soldiers of the Negro race in the World War for democracy, profusely illustrated with official photographs. I was captured by the words “profusely illustrated.” As I perused the book online I was astounded by both the words and imagery in a publication that has been somewhat lost to time as has its author.

Booker T. Washington

Booker T. Washington

Born in February 1873 in Houston, Texas, Emmett J. Scott was the child of ex-slaves. He attended Wiley College in Marshall, Texas, then worked a series of jobs before employment at a small Houston newspaper. He would eventually co-found the first African American newspaper in Houston, The Texas Freeman, and he would work with political activists like Norris Wright Cuney.  Impressed by Scott’s skills, Booker T. Washington, principal of Tuskegee Institute, hired him in 1897.

washingtontuskegee

Biographers note that “He became widely recognized as the leader of what was to later be known as the “Tuskegee Machine,” the group of people close to Booker T. Washington who wielded influence over the Black press, churches, and schools in order to promote Washington’s views.“[1] Like Washington, Scott believed that uplift for blacks would come through business development, the creation of strong financial institutions and nurturing economic self-sufficiency within African American communities. He ran the National Negro Business League founded by Washington in 1900. At Washington’s side, Scott was also active in U.S. politics at home and abroad. In 1909, Scott joined the American Commission to Liberia appointed by President Taft. After Washington died in 1915, Scott co-wrote a biography about his friend and mentor with Lyman Beecher Stowe, the grandson of Harriet Beecher Stowe.

scottliberiancommission

Scott in 1909 as part of the Liberian Commission

Following Washington’s death, Scott remained at Tuskegee and continued to promote Washington’s philosophy through endeavors like the National Negro Business League. As Scott and other black leaders like a young W. E. B. DuBois sought to identify future opportunities for advancement while celebrating current achievements, a storm brewed across the nation.  The early 1900s was a tumultuous period. Race riots proliferated and not just in the South as highlighted in this 1900 dispatch from Columbia, South Carolina regarding a New York riot.

scriot1900

A 1908 Springfield, IL riot and lynching prompted ministers, both black and white, to speak directly to the incident. From a New York pulpit, the Rev. Dr. Madison C. Peter’s would remark:

peterswords

Seven years before Thomas Dixon’s book would be brought to the big screen by D. W. Griffith as Birth of a Nation, Peters  would go on to add, “We are reaping what we have allowed to be sown. Dixon’s novels and Tillman’s speeches have been a menace to the best interests of our republic … keeping alive the race antagonism North and South, which is setting men at one another’s throats when their hands should be clasped in brotherly love.

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Thomas Dixon Jr.

In 1910 when black fighter Jack Johnson beat white fighter James Jeffries in Reno, Nevada in a fight dubbed “the fight of the century” riots broke out across the nation.

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Jack Johnson

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Meanwhile, by 1914, war raged in Europe. The U.S. would eventually join. On April 2, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson asked Congress to declare war on Germany in order to make the world safe for democracy.  The Selective Service Act of 1917 temporarily authorized the government to raise an army through the compulsory enlistment of Americans. The resulting American Expeditionary Force would be sent to Europe under the command of General John J. Pershing.

pershing

Pershing

When the U.S entered the war, it was unclear what the role of black soldiers was to be, assuming there was to be any role at all. After much discussion and vociferous debate it was decided all American men were needed in this Great War, and Emmett Jay Scott was to play a pivotal role in their involvement. As one biographer notes:

motonwilson

Robert R. Moton, President of Tuskegee and President Woodrow Wilson

…there was considerable uneasiness as to what would be the status of the Negro in the war and quite naturally Tuskegee Institute was one of the centers which helped in adjusting these conditions. Dr. Moton, Principal, and Mr. Scott, made frequent visits to New York and Washington, and were constantly in consultation with the authorities at Washington. Out of these discussions and together with the activities of other agencies working towards the same end, the Officer’s Training Camp for Negro Officers was established at Des Moines, Iowa, and later, following a conversation between Dr. Moton and Mr. Scott, Dr. Moton interviewed President Wilson and suggested that a colored man be designated as an Assistant or Advisor in the War Department to pass upon various matters affecting the Negro soldiers who were then being inducted into the service and as the result, Mr. Scott went to Washington on October 1st, 1917, and from then until July 1st, 1919, served as Special Assistant to the Secretary of War.” [2]

draftees

draftees

Over a million African Americans responded to their draft calls and nearly three-quarters of a million served. Even as hundreds of thousands stepped forward to answer Wilson’s call, “race antagonism” continued unbridled. On July 2, 1917, a riot broke out in East St. Louis between black and white workers that left over a hundred blacks dead. In a July 4th address, Colonel Theodore Roosevelt preceded his war address to remark, “There has just occurred in a northern city a most lamentable tragedy. We who live elsewhere would do well not to be self-righteous about it, for it was produced by causes which might at any time produce just such results in any of the communities in which we individually dwell.

stlouisriot1

Even as over one hundred indictments were being made in the St. Louis incident, an altercation took place in Houston, TX between black soldiers stationed at Camp Logan and white residents. In the end, according to one source, “Three military court-martial proceedings convicted 110 soldiers. Sixty-three received life sentences and thirteen were hung without due process. The army buried their bodies in unmarked graves.” [3]

Emerging out of the resulting nationwide protests was the question – if we are to make the world safe for democracy shouldn’t we make America safe for democracy?

 

soldiers-from-chicago

soldiers from chicago arriving in france

Despite outright discrimination, verbal and physical abuses, and segragation among troops, African Americans served with distinction at every level (as they had in previous engagements like the Spanish-American War).

buffaloes

troop 367th known as the buffaloes

Today I know of many people, of diverse backgrounds, who have no idea of the significant role of African Americans in World War I. Why is that? In part, it is because the visuals were not produced or those that were produced — the illustrations, the paintings, the photography — were not widely distributed. They were not reproduced in the consumer publications of the period. The heroics of individuals, with rare exception, or of whole troops, with rare exception like the Harlem Hellfighters, were not retold, and certainly not in the classroom, as part of the narrative of America’s victory in the Great War.

croix

two officers who received the croix de guerre

What was Emmett J. Scott thinking when he decided to produce his book? He tells us in the preface: “The Negro, in the great World War for Freedom and Democracy, has proved to be a notable and inspiring figure. The record and achievements of this racial group, as brave soldiers and loyal citizens, furnish one of the brightest chapters in American history. The ready response of Negro draftees to the Selective Service calls together with the numerous patriotic activities of Negroes generally, gave ample evidence of their whole-souled support and their 100 per cent Americanism. …

philadelphia

troop from philadelphia

It is difficult to indicate which rendered the greater service to their Country—the 400,000 or more of them who entered active military service (many of whom fearlessly and victoriously fought upon the battlefields of France) or the millions of other loyal members of this race whose useful industry in fields, factories, forests, mines, together with many other indispensable civilian activities, so vitally helped the Federal authorities in carrying the war to a successful conclusion. … 

corporal-mcintyre

corporal fred mcintyre of the 369th

It is because of the immensely valuable contribution made by Negro soldiers, sailors, and civilians toward the winning of the great World War that this volume has been prepared—in order that there may be an authentic record, not only of the military exploits of this particular racial group of Americans, but of the diversified and valuable contributions made by them as patriotic civilians.

return

369th returning home “bringing back the unique record of never having had a man captured, never losing a foot of ground or a trench, and of being nearest to the Rhine of any allied unit where the armistice was signed, and the first detachment of allied troops to reach the Rhine after the armistice.”

In The American Negro in the World War Scott produces a comprehensive account of the involvement of black Americans in World War I, those in the field and those on the home front. I believe it is an important archival record.

canteen

red cross canteen war workers in chicago

After the war Scott’s efforts with the military were both applauded and criticized. Some, like W. E. B. Du Bois, felt he should have been more vocal about the systemic racism and segregation among the troops stationed in Europe. But in wartime correspondence, just declassified in the 1980s, its clear that Scott worked hard to be a voice for the soldiers and to address injustices committed.

scott-and-team

dr. emmet jay scott and his faithful office corps who co-operated in the performance of his duties as special assistant to the secretary of war

After the war, Scott would move on to Howard University. Outside of his university duties as Secretary Treasurer, he would continue to promote and invest in business development opportunities nationwide. He died December 12, 1957 at the age of 84.

Sources & Additional Reading

The American Negro in the World War – https://archive.org/details/scottsofficialhi00scot_0

or http://net.lib.byu.edu/~rdh7/wwi/comment/Scott/ScottTC.htm

[1] Emmett Scott, Administrator of a Dream

http://www.blackpast.org/aah/scott-emmett-j-1873-1957

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Booker_T._Washington

[2] http://afrotexan.com/AfroPress/Editors/scott_emmett.htm,  a Sketch from the National Cyclopedia of the Colored Race (1919)

They Came to Fight: African Americans and the Great War

 

[3] http://exhibitions.nypl.org/africanaage/essay-world-war-i.html

http://www.npr.org/2015/10/25/451717690/birth-of-a-race-the-obscure-demise-of-a-would-be-rebuttal-to-racism

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Editorial note: This post was written in part in response to the current Presidential administration’s recent remarks this Black History Month, and its seeming lack of knowledge regarding black history in this country. It is also written to share in brief the life and work of an artist whose work I have always admired.

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Henry Ossawa Tanner 1859-1937

Henry Ossawa Tanner was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1859 and grew up in Philadelphia. Tanner’s father, who happened to be a friend of Frederick Douglass, was a bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal church. Tanner’s mother, who had escaped slavery in Virginia via the Underground Railroad, taught private school in the home. Both staunch believers in education, they made sure their son, the eldest in a large family, was well-educated and prepared for a successful career in a conventional job.

tanner-family

The Tanner Family

Tanner had a slightly alternative idea. He too wanted to be successful and he wanted to be a painter. He’d known since the age of 13 after watching an artist at work in a Philadelphia park.  Eventually, his father relented and he was allowed to pursue his artistic calling. In 1879 he was admitted into the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art, the first African American student to attend full-time.

Biographers refer to the fact that Tanner would write little about his time at the academy, mostly focusing on what he learned from Thomas Eakins with whom he studied. Regardless, it was an important period in Tanner’s life, not only for what he learned about art but also about human nature.

pennellmemoir1925

Already in attendance at the academy prior to Tanner’s arrival was student Joseph Pennell who would one day be recognized as a great American illustrator. In his 1925 memoir Pennell makes note of Tanner’s arrival at the school in a chapter titled, The Coming of the Nigger.

henry_ossawa_tanner_ship-in-the-storm

Ship in a Storm, 1879

“There was no dissenting voice in the academy against Tanner’s presence. He came, he was young, an octoroon, very well dressed, far better than most of us. His wool, if he had any, was cropped so short you could not see it, and he had a nice mustache. … he drew very well. He was quiet and modest, and he “painted too” it seemed “among his other accomplishments.” We were interested at first but he soon passed almost unnoticed … Little by little however we were conscious of a change. I can hardly explain, but he seemed to want things; we seemed in the way, and the feeling grew.”

henryossawatannerjetty

Seascape – Jetty, 1876-1879

One night while out on the town with Pennell and other students, Tanner was mocked by other African Americans for being with the white students. Pennell recalls, “Then he began to assert himself and, to cut a long story short, one night his easel was carried out into the middle of Broad Street, and though not painfully crucified, he was firmly tied to it and left there. And that is my only experience of my colored brothers in a white school. Curiously there has never been a great Negro or great Jew artist in the history of the world. …” 

Tanner studied at the academy through 1885. By 1889 he moved to Atlanta. He was unsuccessful in a photography business venture. During this period he made the acquaintance of Bishop Joseph Hartzell of the Methodist Episcopal Church. Hartzel and his wife became patrons, helping Tanner secure a teaching position at Clark College, encouraging him to exhibit his work and eventually funding a trip for him to Europe. In Europe, Tanner discovered an environment where he was not a “negro painter,” he was simply an American painter. In 1891, he emigrated to Paris where he would study at the Academie Julian.

henry_ossawa_tanner_-_the_banjo_lesson

The Banjo Lesson. 1893

After contracting typhoid fever, he returned briefly to the U.S. to recuperate. During this period he delivered a speech at The Chicago Congress on Africa at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition about negro artists and sculptors. In 1893 he would also complete one of his most iconic works, The Banjo Lesson. Tanner had originally sketched this scene in the late 1880s while traveling in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.

the_thankful_poor_1894-_henry_ossawa_tanner

The Thankful Poor, 1894

In two paintings, Tanner portrays the beauty and dignity of African Americans, and does so in  a way that is purposefully counter to the increasingly derogatory depictions of African Americans in art, newspapers and other consumer publications. Numerous prints of these paintings were made and hung in the homes of African Americans as a source of pride and inspiration.  Tanner would produce few, if any other, such paintings of African Americans. Regardless, wherever Tanner traveled in the world, he captured the vibrancy of the people he saw around him.

 

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The Young Sabot Maker

With his religious paintings, he especially played with color and light.

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Resurrection of Lazarus

After being moved by Tanner’s Resurrection of Lazarus, department store magnate and art critic Rodman Wanamaker offered to sponsor a trip to Palestine. Tanner traveled throughout North Africa and the Near East. The journey further informed Tanner’s work with religious narrative.

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Mosque in Cairo

Aside from The Banjo Lesson, Tanner is now most often remembered for the breadth and beauty of his religious themed works.

The Annunciation by Henry Ossawa Tanner 1896

The Anunciation, 1897

henry_ossawa_tanner_-_jesus_and_nicodemus

Jesus Visiting Nicodemus, 1899

 

henry_ossawa_tanner_the_disciples_see_christ_walking_on_the_water_c-_1907

The Disciples See Christ Walking on the Water, 1907

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Daniel in the Lion’s Den

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Flight into Egypt, 1923

In 1899, Tanner married Swedish-American opera singer Jessie Olsson. They had one child, Jesse. Tanner continued to paint, exhibiting internationally. He expanded his list of patrons.  In 1902, over the course of four months, four of his paintings – Sarah, Hagar, Rachel and Mary – were reproduced in the Ladies’ Home Journal. He became renowned though he would always struggle financially.

henryossawatannerlhj

As World War I broke out in Europe, Tanner became depressed. He was unable to paint. Or what he painted while respected was not being purchased.  He wanted to serve in some way but he was too old to enlist. He shared an idea with the U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom Walter Hines Page. His idea: turn the unused fields around the base hospital in Vittel, France into a vegetable garden and organize the convalescing soldiers as a work force. Provide food. Build morale. Page reached out to his counterpart in France and soon after Tanner was attached to the American Red Cross as a Lieutenant in the Farm Services Bureau. In 1919, for his efforts, Tanner received a Foreign Service certificate signed by Woodrow Wilson.

Postwar, Tanner would resume painting and once more receive accolades for his work. In 1923 Tanner was made a chevalier of the Legion of Honour for his work as an artist. In 1927 he became the first African American to be granted full membership in the National Academy of Design in New York.

Tanner lived during one of the most contentious periods in U.S. race relations.  While he chose to emigrate to France, he always considered himself an American. He was a mentor and adviser to artists of all races studying in Europe. He was vocal in print and in person in support of equal opportunity for artists of all backgrounds. On May 27, 1937, he died at his home in Paris.

Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937), American painter;

Today, Tanner is most often referenced as one of the great African American painters. I suspect he would simply like to be known as a great American artist. His painting, Sand Dunes at Sunset, Atlantic City was the first work of art by an African-American artist to be added to the White House Permanent Collection. It was acquired in 1996 from Dr. Rae Alexander-Minter, grandniece of the artist.

sand-dunes-at-sunset

Sand Dunes at Sunset, Atlantic City, 1886

 

Sources & Additional Reading

Treasures of the White House: Sand Dunes at Sunset, Atlantic City

Henry Ossawa Tanner Wikipedia Page

A Missing Question Mark: The Unknown Henry Ossawa Tanner by Will Smith

http://americanart.si.edu/collections/search/artist/?id=4742

Khan Academy Course on Tanner’s Banjo Lesson

The Adventures of an Illustrator by Joseph Pennell

Photograph of the Extended Tanner Family, 1890

Henry Ossawa Tanner| Realist/Symbolist painter

Henry Ossawa Tanner: Race, Religion and Visual Mysticism by Kelly J. Baker

Henry Ossawa Tanner: American Artist  by Marcia M. Mathews

White House Announcement of Acquisition of Tanner Painting

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One day I stood before a giant globe atlas with a friend in elementary school. We liked to spin it round and round. That day, and I’m not sure why, he stopped the globe and pointed at a place. He looked at me and said with a smile, “That says nigger. That’s what my mama told me.” I squinted at the spot (I needed glasses) and then I said to him, matter of factly, “No. That says Niger. I think your mama got it wrong.” His smile faded. And then we went out to play.

One day in high school computer class (Pascal!) I sat next to a friend whom I’d known since elementary school. We were both geeky. I wore a short skirt and one of my first pair of pantyhose. I almost felt grown up. He kept rubbing my knee. I was beginning to think he might like me. I didn’t know how to giggle but I did smile at what he was doing. I guess he noticed because he said  all of a sudden, “Cynthia, my mother doesn’t like black people. She wouldn’t let me bring you home.” I simply said, “Okay.” And in my mind’s eye I remembered his mother and my mother talking cordially at a parent-teacher meeting.

One day not long ago I stood in a place where I was tasked to welcome strangers. Two men walked in, one wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with a Nazi symbol and the other wore a t-shirt that said, white people are the best people. I did not feel very welcoming but to be welcoming was my job. In the end, on that day, the gentlemen and I conversed about everything except what they wore on their shirts and the color of my skin. We went our separate ways both still existing and having to live with each other in this world.

All of these things happened to me before Trump was voted in as President. I don’t blame Trump for racism, conservatism, alt-right, Breitbart and all the other ugliness in this world. I blame him for fanning the flames of hate. I hold him accountable for the blinders he chooses to wear about what he has done and his active willful ignorance about the scale of the harm he will do to this nation and the world with his cabinet choices.

He has become the President of a flawed, great nation. That nation will not fall with his presidency but it may fracture in ways not even conceived of yet. Will I hold him, Pence and others accountable? Yes! But I will also hold myself and others accountable if we do not take every opportunity, each day, no matter how seemingly small, to become better educated, informed, engaged and active world citizens.

One day …

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Richard Lonsdale Brown, Class of 1910

Richard Lonsdale Brown 1910

In January, I posted the story of an African American artist named Richard Lonsdale Brown (1892-1917). Recently I came across new information that inspired me to revisit his life.  Raised in West Virginia, he traveled to New York City where his talent was recognized. He was featured in the New York Times.  As was often the case for young fine artists, supporters hoped he’d continue his artistic studies in Paris. The trip would never take place. Brown died at the age of 26. Few of his watercolor or oil paintings survive today but he may have left an unexpected legacy in the impact he made upon W. E. B. Du Bois.

W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois 1868-1963

The two men would meet shortly after Brown graduated from West Virginia Collegiate Institute, earlier known as the West Virginia Colored Institute. There “In connection with his academic studies he took painting as a trade, under the late George Collins of South America, who was quite an artist. In addition to house painting and interior decoration, the boy showed wonderful aptitude for artistic painting, and was encouraged to paint the hills and scenery along the Great Kanawha River near the institution.” (1)

Brown would eventually make his way to New York City where he would share his portfolio with artist George De Forest Brush. Brown would later share in an interview that he remembered walking up and down Fifth Avenue trying to sell his pictures to galleries to pay for food and rent. He was about to give in to despair when …

Mourning her Brave by George de Forest Brush, 1883

Mourning her Brave by George de Forest Brush, 1883

Brown found the artist’s studio and knocked at his door. Brush answered. He listened and then he reviewed the modest portfolio. An internationally renowned artist, Brush recognized the young man’s talent and invited him to study for a summer in Keene, New Hampshire.  Afterward he studied at the American Academy of Design.  Through Brush, Brown’s work would catch the attention of the founders of the newly formed National Association for Colored People (NAACP), including W. E. B. Du Bois and Mary Ovington. He became their protege.

On January 1912, his artwork was exhibited during the first annual meeting of the NAACP, and would be exhibited during future annual meetings as well.  In March, with Ovington’s aid, his work was exhibited in a NYC gallery. The press was spectacular. The turnout was great. Brown’s works were purchased by collectors from around the world.  Later in the year, his artwork would grace at least two covers of The Crisis, the national magazine published by the NAACP.

In 1913, he would turn his attention from painting landscapes to design and decoration as he worked with Du Bois to execute The Star of Egypt.  In 1911, Du Bois had written The Star of Egypt, a historical pageant presenting the history of African Americans over time. Brown would serve as set decorator, along with Lenwood Morris. He would travel with Du Bois as they met with both blacks and whites in an effort to raise funds. An elaborate production involving casts of thousands, it was well-received though struggled with financing. The pageant would be staged in three cities during Brown’s life, New York in 1913, Washington, DC in 1915, and Philadelphia in 1916.

December 1915 Cover by Richard L. Brown

December 1915 Cover by Richard L. Brown

His time in the northeast studying art, his work with W. E. B. Du Bois, the changing landscape of America and a world that was on the brink of war, all of these things were influencing Brown’s artistic aspirations. In a 1913 interview about his art, he tentatively but determinedly brings up the question of race.

A few years later he would confide in Mary Ovington about his changing perspective. She shares in her memoir:

That trip South she refers to would take Richard Brown to his parent’s home in Muskogee, Oklahoma.  The year was 1917.  On his World War I draft registration card, completed in Muskogee in June,  he notes his occupation as artist and his race as African. He died of pneumonia in September of that year.

While it is unclear why Brown returned to his parents, it is clear from subsequent editorials by W. E. B. Du Bois in The Crisis that Brown, like many black artists in that time, was not making a living as an artist. Always a proponent for nurturing art within the black community, Du Bois took pride in showcasing the talent of young artists like Richard Brown. As he refers to Brown in editorials over the next few years it is with an underlying note of frustration if not outright anger at the loss of this young man’s talent from the world. Those feelings are directed at the white community and at the black community for not financially supporting the creativity within its midst.

An obituary for Brown in the January 1918 issue of The Crisis states “he started on a trip to see what beauty he might find in the South. … Some of us, perhaps all of us, are to blame that Richard Brown was not given a better chance to develop a gift which some of the greatest artists called wonderful.

In a May 1922 editorial in The Crisis titled Art for Nothing, Du Bois writes:

There is a deep feeling among many people and particularly among colored people that Art should not be paid for. The feeling is based on an ancient and fine idea of human Freedom in the quest of Beauty and on a dream that the artist rises and should rise above paltry considerations of dollars and food. At the same time everybody knows that artists must live if their art is to live. Everybody knows that if the people who enjoy the artist’s work do not pay for it, somebody else must or his work cannot go on. Despite this practical, obvious fact, we are united with singular unity to starve colored artists.

He proceeds to list a series of living artists from Meta Warrick Fuller to William A. Scott all struggling to make a living but he concludes the list with his lost protege, “Richard Brown died of privation while yet a boy.

In another essay about art, in October 1926, he says, “There was Richard Brown. If he had been white he would have been alive today instead of dead of neglect. Many helped him when he asked but he was not the kind of boy that always asks. He was simply one who made colors sing.

Landscape by Richard Lonsdale Brown

Landscape by Richard Lonsdale Brown

In 1928, Mary Brown, Richard Brown’s mother, wrote to Du Bois. She had a dozen of his paintings and sought his aid in selling them in New York. With the money raised she hoped to create a monument for her son. They were all unframed, she said, and encouraged him to deduct the expense of framing from the sell of the paintings and also to deduct a stipend for his time. He took on the task but was unsuccessful. Even with the aid of Mary Beattie Brady of The Harmon Foundation, he could find no one willing to spend more than few dollars per painting. Brady and he agreed that they should not be sold for so little.  In the last letter between Du Bois and Brown’s mother, dated April 1931, Du Bois expresses his regrets and asks if she’d like him to return the paintings or to hold on to them in hopes that the New York scene might improve.

Today Brown’s paintings sell for thousands of dollars.

Sources and Additional Reading

West Virginia Collegiate Institute Monthly, December 1917, p. 3

The Sun Newspaper, October 5, 1913, p. 39

Star of Ethiopia Photograph, The Crisis Magazine, August 2016

Black and White Sat Down Together: The Reminiscences of an NAACP Founder (pp. 75-76)

Letters of W. E. B. Du Bois, UMASS Special Collections – http://credo.library.umass.edu/

W. E. B. Du Bois

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To rediscover the beauty once created like this cover for The Crisis Magazine by artist Laura Wheeler, and …

To remember the struggles we have faced before as a nation and overcome, to a degree, though it is frightening to see how easy it is to regress.

FYI, W. E. B. Du Bois founded The Crisis in 1910.  You can read about the magazine’s origin, and browse issues through 1922, via this link.  You can read the above issue on women’s suffrage online via this link. And the Online Books Page identifies sources for viewing other issues.

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When do we see ourselves? How do we see ourselves? How is our sense of self shaped by the images of others?  This past year, I spent a lot of time researching U.S. history, mostly pre-Civil War into the early twentieth century.  One of the things that I re-discovered for myself was an evolution in the illustration and other visual representation of African Americans that reflected the sentiments of a rapidly evolving nation.  A nation that had loosely reknit after a Civil War, thirty-years later still in rancorous debate about the “Negro Problem”, and now having to deal with waves of mostly non-English speaking European immigrants making their way to a promised land. Culture clashes took place at every level of society. And those tensions were reflected in the arts and how “others” were represented.

I chanced upon an 1898 issue of the magazine, The Art Amateur: Devoted to Art in the Household, a popular type of magazine at the time.  The article that caught my attention, by E. Day McPherson, focused on Drawings of the Negro Character, an actual tutorial for how to capture the character of your artistic subject.  When reading the text I tried to keep in mind the context of the time. For example … “Character might be defined as the result of emotional habit, and certainly the lines expressive of character are those which show what emotions the person is most frequently subject to and in what degree he is accustomed to repress or hide them.  The negro is much more accustomed to give his emotions free play than white people, and they more than the yellow and the red races. To the Japanese we seem as “funny” as the negro seems to us …”

But my focus was not the words but the artist’s work.  Most publications from that time, outside of publications produced by African Americans, were already presenting stereotypical images of African Americans, if any images were being shown at all.  I was struck by Dee Beebe’s portraits of young African Americans, possibly in Galveston, Texas, in the casual clothing of their day.  I don’t know if she captured their character but she captured their beauty for me.

I couldn’t find out much about the artist. She was born in 1870 into a prominent family in Galveston, Texas. Her artistic skills were clear at an early age.  As one writer noted in 1896:

At the Art Academy of Cincinnati, she studied with Frank Duveneck.  In New York, she studied with William Merrit Chase and Kenyon Cox, and later with Theodore Wendel in Gloucester, MA.  Throughout her life she was a teacher while continuing to produce oil and watercolor paintings as well as etchings. The last reference to an exhibit that I could find was 1922.  She exhibited at the Ainslie Galleries in New York, seventy-five watercolors, “including bits of Holland and Switzerland, views of New England, the Arizona desert and around San Francisco and studies of flowers in localities as diversified as Prospect Park, Brooklyn, Los Angeles, Switzerland and Holland.” She died in 1946.

It would be intriguing to see more of the work of this artist. I found a few landscapes online.  The 1898 article says that at one period while back home in Texas she “devoted much time to the portrayal of negro types.” Perhaps those other images, if they still exist I might not like so much, but I am glad she created these images and that they were shared with the public in that popular magazine.

Sources

The Art Amateur: Devoted to Art in Household, Volume 39-40, 1898

Prominent Women of Texas (1896), p. 82

Magazine of Art, 1922

 

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I chanced upon Kicha’s Black History website while researching an African American architect who lived during the late 1800s into early 1900s. I was finding lots of words providing context about the African American experience during this period but very few images until I came across her galleries.

Her unique collection is a moving reminder of the power of images to document the stories of people and places that might otherwise be forgotten.

I highly recommend taking time to peruse the site  and view the wide range of photos and their accompanying text. You can scroll through individual photos or browse different albums.

The photos were taken by different photographers.  They capture a beauty and dignity as well as diversity not always depicted in today’s historical narratives about the African American experience or in most popular media recreations of the time period.

While I don’t know the website creator’s story, I say bravo to what she has pulled together.  I think the site does something important by presenting pictures of an American experience that many may not know but may be important to rediscover and celebrate as we continue to define who we are in this melting pot of a nation.

View Kicha’s Black History galleries:  http://www.ipernity.com/home/285591

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