Thursday, May 31, 2012

A Small Nation of People: W.E.B. Du Bois and African American Portraits of Progress

A Small Nation of People: W.E.B. Du Bois and African American Portraits of Progress

African American life at the turn of the 20th century is the subject of this volume, which has recently been published by the Library of Congress in association with Amistad, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

As the world prepared to celebrate a century of progress at the 1900 International Exposition in Paris, W.E.B. Du Bois, then a sociology professor at Atlanta University, was approached by Thomas Calloway, an African American lawyer who called for black participation in the exposition, to illustrate progress made by black Americans since Emancipation. Du Bois, Calloway and Daniel A. P. Murray, a son of freed slaves and assistant Librarian of Congress, compiled books, manuscripts, artifacts and some 500 photographs of people, homes, churches, businesses and landscapes that defied stereotypes. "A Small Nation of People" brings together more than 150 of these photographs in a single volume for the first time.

Known as "The Exhibit of American Negroes," the Paris display included a set of charts, maps and graphs prepared by Du Bois that recorded the growth of population, economic power and literacy among African Americans in Georgia. But it also included photographs that exemplified dignity, accomplishment and progress, showing African Americans attending universities, running businesses and serving as nuns.

In the years following the exposition, Murray succeeding in acquiring the complete set of photographs for the Library's Prints and Photographs collection. These images may be viewed on the Library's Web site in the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog ( in the collection designated "African American Photographs Assembled for the 1900 Paris Exposition." Prints of illustrations with reproduction numbers may be ordered from the Library's Photoduplication Service.
Essays by Du Bois biographer David Levering Lewis and photo historian Deborah Willis provide the context for the choice of these photographs and their importance today.

David Levering Lewis, a recipient of a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, is the author of several books, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning volumes "W.E.B. Du Bois: The Fight for Equality and the American Century" and "W.E.B. Du Bois: Biography of a Race." He is a professor of history at New York University.

Deborah Willis, also a MacArthur Fellow, writes frequently on African American themes as well as on the history of photography. Among her more recent publications is "Reflections in Black: A History of Black Photographers, 1840-Present." She is a professor of photography and imaging at New York University.
"A Small Nation of People," a 208-page hardcover book with 163 duotone images, is available for $24.95 in bookstores and through the Library of Congress Sales Shop, Washington, DC 20540-4985. Credit card orders are taken at (888) 682-3557.

Click here to view Mr. Lewis and Ms. Willis talked about their book, A Small Nation of People: W.E.B. Du Bois and African American Portraits of Progress, on C-Span's BookTV.

W.E.B. Du Bois and the 1900 Paris Exhibition

Horse-drawn carriage in front of corner drugstore. Georgia, ca. 1900

Included in an award-winning exhibit at the Paris Exposition, this photograph--one of 500--was part of the evidence collected under the direction of W. E. B. DuBois to illustrate the condition, education, and literature of African Americans at the turn of the twentieth century, only thirty-five years after the abolition of slavery. In his own description of the exhibit, DuBois noted that by 1900 African Americans owned one million acres of land and paid taxes on twelve million dollars worth of property. In addition to photographs about black-owned businesses like this one in Georgia, the exhibit included a number of images related to successful black businesses elsewhere. The related display in the foyer of the Library's John Adams Building features additional photographs of black businesses assembled for the Paris Exposition. []

An African American-owned drugstore in Georgia--CREDIT: "Interior view of Dr. McDougald's Drug Store." 1899 or 1900. W.E.B. Du Bois Albums of Photographs of African Americans in Georgia Exhibited at the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1900, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Materials Compiled by W.E.B. Du Bois

At the turn of the century, W. E. B. Du Bois compiled a series of photographs for the "American Negro" exhibit at the 1900 Paris Exposition. He organized the 363 images into albums, entitled Types of American Negroes, Georgia, U.S.A. and Negro Life in Georgia, U.S.A..

At the time, Du Bois was a professor of sociology at Atlanta University, committed to combating racism with empirical evidence of the economic, social, and cultural conditions of African Americans. He believed that a clear revelation of the facts of African American life and culture would challenge the claims of biological race scientists influential at the time, which proposed that African Americans were inherently inferior to Anglo-Americans. The photographs of affluent young African American men and women challenged the scientific "evidence" and popular racist caricatures of the day that ridiculed and sought to diminish African American social and economic success. Further, the wide range of hair styles and skin tones represented in the photographs demonstrated that the so-called "Negro type" was in fact a diverse group of distinct individuals. The one public statement Du Bois made concerning these photographs was that visitors to the American Negro exhibit would find "several volumes of photographs of typical Negro faces, which hardly square with conventional American ideas."

Du Bois's work for the American Negro exhibit was extensive and much praised. In the Spring of 1900, Paris Exposition judges awarded him a gold medal for his role as "collaborator" and "compiler" of materials for the exhibit. []

NPR reported on 2 December 2003, "W.E.B. Du Bois' African-American Portraits: Collection Depicts Life for Blacks 35 Years After Civil War," by Michele Norris -- "Some foreigners will think we have nothing for the Negro but the bludgeon and revolver; we shall convince them otherwise." These are the words of B.D. Woodward, the assistant commissioner-general for the U.S.'s delegation to the 1900 Paris Exposition. He was referring to the "American Negro Exhibit," pulled together for the Paris Exposition by the young sociologist W.E.B. Du Bois.

Du Bois put on exhibit 500 photographs that symbolized black life in America 35 years after the end of slavery. And he chose with care. The photos, many of them portraits, show the trappings of middle- and upper-class life: ornate clothing, fancy hats, jewelry, confident poses. Du Bois intended the photographs to counteract stereotypes of blacks as poor, uneducated, or the victims of American racism.

Those photographs are now collected in a book, A Small Nation of People, published by the Library of Congress. Co-author and historian of photography Deborah Willis first heard about the photos during college. She didn't discover they still existed for years later. She says even today — in her 50s — she's still amazed by the stories the photos tell. NPR's Michele Norris, host of All Things Considered, talks with Willis about the collection. (source: NPR)

Alexander Crummell, Cambridge's first black graduate

Alexander Crummell, Cambridge University's first black student to graduate in the 19th century.

Stephen Bates of The UK Guardian reports on 19 October 2011--Alexander Crummell is not a name that resonates in any list of black pioneers but his story as the son of a former slave who became almost certainly the first black student to graduate from Cambridge University will be told tonight at a lecture in the university's Festival of Ideas.

The resurrection of the long-obscure 19th-century American student comes months after Cambridge and Oxford once again had to fend off accusations about low admission rates for students from ethnic minorities. In 2009, 15% of first-year undergraduates were from ethnic minorities, but none of the academic or laboratory staff at the university were black.

Although Crummell was perhaps not the first black student Cambridge had seen – a Jamaican man, Francis Williams, is thought to have studied there in the 1700s and a mixed-race violinist, George Augustus Bridgetower, had been awarded a music degree for a composition in 1812 – he is the first officially recorded in the university records as having studied and graduated.

His story will be told by Sarah Meer, a university lecturer and fellow of Selwyn College, at the English faculty. "He was immensely proud to have studied at Cambridge and said he had never felt free until he landed in Britain," Meer said.

The library at the Queen's College in Cambridge

Crummell, born and educated in New York, the son of illiterate parents, was sponsored by American Episcopalians and their English Anglican contacts and was admitted to Queens' College as a 30-year-old student, married with three young children, in 1848. The student fees, raised by his church supporters in the abolitionist movement, were even more eye-watering than they would be today: £3,000, perhaps the equivalent of £180,000.

He certainly experienced racism. Dons' diaries refer to the "woolly-haired undergraduate with a black wife and piccaninnies". But there was also sympathy too, when one of his children was killed in an accident. Crummell remembered being cheered by other students when he graduated, though a future archbishop of Canterbury, EW Benson, who was present, recalled one student calling out: "Three groans for the Queens' nigger." Benson claimed he had shouted out "Shame on you", and that he had led the cheers himself.

Crummell's modern obscurity, Meer thinks, is probably because he later espoused the idea, championed by some American white racists, of setting up the black African country of Liberia. He lived and worked there for a number of years, aiming to teach the inhabitants to become Christianised and Europeanised. "Crummell ended up on the wrong side. He was also quite a stern and difficult person, who fell out with his congregations because he believed they were not living moral enough lives and with his colleagues, who he felt infringed his dignity," she said. "Whether he was like that because of his personality, or his experiences, we will never be sure." (source: The UK Guardian)

The Decaying Historic Alexander Crummell School

That little building is sitting on a big sea of gravel, full of opportunity. (Lydia DePillis)

From the Washington City Paper, "City Puts Another Decaying Historic School Up For Grabs," by Lydia DePillis on 30 August 2011 -- This November, the Alexander Crummell School on Gallaudet and Kendall Streets NE will mark its 100th birthday. But it's not really in a position to celebrate. The decaying brick hulk, placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2004, has been bereft of students since the late 60s. In a 2000 City Paper cover story, the school's decline mirrored that of the surrounding neighborhood, Ivy City. Now, there's no reason you would ever find the building unless you were either looking for it or looking for nothing, as I was this past Sunday, when I stumbled across the abandoned school on a bike ride and struggled to make out "CRUMMELL SCHOOL" underneath all the vegetation growing around it.

In the next few months, however, the building's fortunes could change: Yesterday, the District issued a request for offers for the building, with the requirement that it be made available for a charter school. It's unlikely that would be an attractive proposition for any for-profit developer, given that the school itself is only about 20,000 square feet, and will likely take many millions to renovate. It's also just the latest in a a pile of schools, many of them also historic, that the District closed and is trying to put back into productive use ...

But here's the Crummell School's selling point: The entire lot is huge, at nearly 2.5 acres, situated right off New York Avenue NE behind the soon-to-be-developed Hechts Warehouse. According to the request for offers, residents are looking for a community center and "economic development" on the site, which could take the form of new housing, retail, offices, or hell, a laser tag arena. If anything, that's what will bring this crumbling beauty back to life. (source: Washington City Paper)

The old Alexander Crummell School located at Kendall and Gallaudet Streets, NE in the Ivy City neighborhood of Washington, D.C. Designed by Snowden Ashford in 1910, the Elizabethan Revival building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Of Alexander Crummell by W.E.B. Du Bois

W.E.B. Du Bois (1868–1963). The Souls of Black Folk. 1903.
Chapter XII: Of Alexander Crummell

THIS is the history of a human heart,—the tale of a black boy who many long years ago began to struggle with life that he might know the world and know himself. Three temptations he met on those dark dunes that lay gray and dismal before the wonder-eyes of the child: the temptation of Hate, that stood out against the red dawn; the temptation of Despair, that darkened noonday; and the temptation of Doubt, that ever steals along with twilight. Above all, you must hear of the vales he crossed,—the Valley of Humiliation and the Valley of the Shadow of Death. 

I saw Alexander Crummell first at a Wilberforce commencement season, amid its bustle and crush. Tall, frail, and black he stood, with simple dignity and an unmistakable air of good breeding. I talked with him apart, where the storming of the lusty young orators could not harm us. I spoke to him politely, then curiously, then eagerly, as I began to feel the fineness of his character,—his calm courtesy, the sweetness of his strength, and his fair blending of the hope and truth of life. Instinctively I bowed before this man, as one bows before the prophets of the world. Some seer he seemed, that came not from the crimson Past or the gray To-come, but from the pulsing Now,—that mocking world which seemed to me at once so light and dark, so splendid and sordid. Four-score years had he wandered in this same world of mine, within the Veil. 

John Robert Clifford, W.E.B. DuBois (seated), Monroe Trotter, Freeman Henry Morris Murray

He was born with the Missouri Compromise and lay a-dying amid the echoes of Manila and El Caney: stirring times for living, times dark to look back upon, darker to look forward to. The black-faced lad that paused over his mud and marbles seventy years ago saw puzzling vistas as he looked down the world. The slave-ship still groaned across the Atlantic, faint cries burdened the Southern breeze, and the great black father whispered mad tales of cruelty into those young ears. From the low doorway the mother silently watched her boy at play, and at nightfall sought him eagerly lest the shadows bear him away to the land of slaves. 

So his young mind worked and winced and shaped curiously a vision of Life; and in the midst of that vision ever stood one dark figure alone,—ever with the hard, thick countenance of that bitter father, and a form that fell in vast and shapeless folds. Thus the temptation of Hate grew and shadowed the growing child,—gliding stealthily into his laughter, fading into his play, and seizing his dreams by day and night with rough, rude turbulence. So the black boy asked of sky and sun and flower the never-answered Why? and loved, as he grew, neither the world nor the world’s rough ways. 

Alexander Crummell 

Strange temptation for a child, you may think; and yet in this wide land to-day a thousand thousand dark children brood before this same temptation, and feel its cold and shuddering arms. For them, perhaps, some one will some day lift the Veil,—will come tenderly and cheerily into those sad little lives and brush the brooding hate away, just as Beriah Green strode in upon the life of Alexander Crummell. And before the bluff, kind-hearted man the shadow seemed less dark. Beriah Green had a school in Oneida County, New York, with a score of mischievous boys. “I’m going to bring a black boy here to educate,” said Beriah Green, as only a crank and an abolitionist would have dared to say. “Oho!” laughed the boys. “Ye-es,” said his wife; and Alexander came. Once before, the black boy had sought a school, had travelled, cold and hungry, four hundred miles up into free New Hampshire, to Canaan. But the godly farmers hitched ninety yoke of oxen to the abolition schoolhouse and dragged it into the middle of the swamp. The black boy trudged away. 

The nineteenth was the first century of human sympathy,—the age when half wonderingly we began to descry in others that transfigured spark of divinity which we call Myself; when clodhoppers and peasants, and tramps and thieves, and millionaires and—sometimes—Negroes, became throbbing souls whose warm pulsing life touched us so nearly that we half gasped with surprise, crying, “Thou too! Hast Thou seen Sorrow and the dull waters of Hopelessness? Hast Thou known Life?” And then all helplessly we peered into those Other-worlds, and wailed, “O World of Worlds, how shall man make you one?” 

Alexander Crummell 

So in that little Oneida school there came to those schoolboys a revelation of thought and longing beneath one black skin, of which they had not dreamed before. And to the lonely boy came a new dawn of sympathy and inspiration. The shadowy, formless thing—the temptation of Hate, that hovered between him and the world—grew fainter and less sinister. It did not wholly fade away, but diffused itself and lingered thick at the edges. Through it the child now first saw the blue and gold of life,—the sun-swept road that ran ’twixt heaven and earth until in one far-off wan wavering line they met and kissed. A vision of life came to the growing boy,—mystic, wonderful. He raised his head, stretched himself, breathed deep of the fresh new air. Yonder, behind the forests, he heard strange sounds; then glinting through the trees he saw, far, far away, the bronzed hosts of a nation calling,—calling faintly, calling loudly. He heard the hateful clank of their chains, he felt them cringe and grovel, and there rose within him a protest and a prophecy. And he girded himself to walk down the world. 

A voice and vision called him to be a priest,—a seer to lead the uncalled out of the house of bondage. He saw the headless host turn toward him like the whirling of mad waters,—he stretched forth his hands eagerly, and then, even as he stretched them, suddenly there swept across the vision the temptation of Despair. 

They were not wicked men,—the problem of life is not the problem of the wicked,—they were calm, good men, Bishops of the Apostolic Church of God, and strove toward righteousness. They said slowly, “It is all very natural—it is even commendable; but the General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church cannot admit a Negro.” And when that thin, half-grotesque figure still haunted their doors, they put their hands kindly, half sorrowfully, on his shoulders, and said, “Now,—of course, we—we know how you feel about it; but you see it is impossible,—that is—well—it is premature. 

Sometime, we trust—sincerely trust—all such distinctions will fade away; but now the world is as it is.”

Alexander Crummell 

This was the temptation of Despair; and the young man fought it doggedly. Like some grave shadow he flitted by those halls, pleading, arguing, half angrily demanding admittance, until there came the final No; until men hustled the disturber away, marked him as foolish, unreasonable, and injudicious, a vain rebel against God’s law. And then from that Vision Splendid all the glory faded slowly away, and left an earth gray and stern rolling on beneath a dark despair. Even the kind hands that stretched themselves toward him from out the depths of that dull morning seemed but parts of the purple shadows. He saw them coldly, and asked, “Why should I strive by special grace when the way of the world is closed to me?” All gently yet, the hands urged him on,—the hands of young John Jay, that daring father’s daring son; the hands of the good folk of Boston, that free city. And yet, with a way to the priesthood of the Church open at last before him, the cloud lingered there; and even when in old St. Paul’s the venerable Bishop raised his white arms above the Negro deacon—even then the burden had not lifted from that heart, for there had passed a glory from the earth.

And yet the fire through which Alexander Crummell went did not burn in vain. Slowly and more soberly he took up again his plan of life. More critically he studied the situation. Deep down below the slavery and servitude of the Negro people he saw their fatal weaknesses, which long years of mistreatment had emphasized. The dearth of strong moral character, of unbending righteousness, he felt, was their great shortcoming, and here he would begin. He would gather the best of his people into some little Episcopal chapel and there lead, teach, and inspire them, till the leaven spread, till the children grew, till the world hearkened, till—till—and then across his dream gleamed some faint after-glow of that first fair vision of youth—only an after-glow, for there had passed a glory from the earth.

One day—it was in 1842, and the springtide was struggling merrily with the May winds of New England—he stood at last in his own chapel in Providence, a priest of the Church. The days sped by, and the dark young clergyman labored; he wrote his sermons carefully; he intoned his prayers with a soft, earnest voice; he haunted the streets and accosted the wayfarers; he visited the sick, and knelt beside the dying. He worked and toiled, week by week, day by day, month by month. And yet month by month the congregation dwindled, week by week the hollow walls echoed more sharply, day by day the calls came fewer and fewer, and day by day the third temptation sat clearer and still more clearly within the Veil; a temptation, as it were, bland and smiling, with just a shade of mockery in its smooth tones. First it came casually, in the cadence of a voice: “Oh, colored folks? Yes.” Or perhaps more definitely: “What do you expect?” In voice and gesture lay the doubt—the temptation of Doubt. How he hated it, and stormed at it furiously! “Of course they are capable,” he cried; “of course they can learn and strive and achieve—” and “Of course,” added the temptation softly, “they do nothing of the sort.” Of all the three temptations, this one struck the deepest. Hate? He had outgrown so childish a thing. Despair? He had steeled his right arm against it, and fought it with the vigor of determination. But to doubt the worth of his lifework,—to doubt the destiny and capability of the race his soul loved because it was his; to find listless squalor instead of eager endeavor; to hear his own lips whispering, “They do not care; they cannot know; they are dumb driven cattle,—why cast your pearls before swine?”—this, this seemed more than man could bear; and he closed the door, and sank upon the steps of the chancel, and cast his robe upon the floor and writhed. 

Alexander Crummell School

The evening sunbeams had set the dust to dancing in the gloomy chapel when he arose. He folded his vestments, put away the hymn-books, and closed the great Bible. He stepped out into the twilight, looked back upon the narrow little pulpit with a weary smile, and locked the door. Then he walked briskly to the Bishop, and told the Bishop what the Bishop already knew. “I have failed,” he said simply. And gaining courage by the confession, he added: “What I need is a larger constituency. There are comparatively few Negroes here, and perhaps they are not of the best. I must go where the field is wider, and try again.” So the Bishop sent him to Philadelphia, with a letter to Bishop Onderdonk.

Bishop Onderdonk lived at the head of six white steps,—corpulent, red-faced, and the author of several thrilling tracts on Apostolic Succession. It was after dinner, and the Bishop had settled himself for a pleasant season of contemplation, when the bell must needs ring, and there must burst in upon the Bishop a letter and a thin, ungainly Negro. Bishop Onderdonk read the letter hastily and frowned. Fortunately, his mind was already clear on this point; and he cleared his brow and looked at Crummell. Then he said, slowly and impressively: “I will receive you into this diocese on one condition: no Negro priest can sit in my church convention, and no Negro church must ask for representation there.”

Alexander Crummell School

I sometimes fancy I can see that tableau: the frail black figure, nervously twitching his hat before the massive abdomen of Bishop Onderdonk; his threadbare coat thrown against the dark woodwork of the book-cases, where Fox’s “Lives of the Martyrs” nestled happily beside “The Whole Duty of Man.” I seem to see the wide eyes of the Negro wander past the Bishop’s broadcloth to where the swinging glass doors of the cabinet glow in the sunlight. A little blue fly is trying to cross the yawning keyhole. He marches briskly up to it, peers into the chasm in a surprised sort of way, and rubs his feelers reflectively; then he essays its depths, and, finding it bottomless, draws back again. The dark-faced priest finds himself wondering if the fly too has faced its Valley of Humiliation, and if it will plunge into it,—when lo! it spreads its tiny wings and buzzes merrily across, leaving the watcher wingless and alone. 

Then the full weight of his burden fell upon him. The rich walls wheeled away, and before him lay the cold rough moor winding on through life, cut in twain by one thick granite ridge,—here, the Valley of Humiliation; yonder, the Valley of the Shadow of Death. And I know not which be darker,—no, not I. But this I know: in yonder Vale of the Humble stand to-day a million swarthy men, who willingly would

“...bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,
The pangs of despised love, the law’s delay,
The insolence of office, and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,”

Alexander Crummell School

all this and more would they bear did they but know that this were sacrifice and not a meaner thing. So surged the thought within that lone black breast. The Bishop cleared his throat suggestively; then, recollecting that there was really nothing to say, considerately said nothing, only sat tapping his foot impatiently. But Alexander Crummell said, slowly and heavily: “I will never enter your diocese on such terms.” And saying this, he turned and passed into the Valley of the Shadow of Death. You might have noted only the physical dying, the shattered frame and hacking cough; but in that soul lay deeper death than that. He found a chapel in New York,—the church of his father; he labored for it in poverty and starvation, scorned by his fellow priests. Half in despair, he wandered across the sea, a beggar with outstretched hands. Englishmen clasped them,—Wilberforce and Stanley, Thirwell and Ingles, and even Froude and Macaulay; Sir Benjamin Brodie bade him rest awhile at Queen’s College in Cambridge, and there he lingered, struggling for health of body and mind, until he took his degree in ’53. Restless still and unsatisfied, he turned toward Africa, and for long years, amid the spawn of the slave-smugglers, sought a new heaven and a new earth. 

So the man groped for light; all this was not Life,—it was the world-wandering of a soul in search of itself, the striving of one who vainly sought his place in the world, ever haunted by the shadow of a death that is more than death,—the passing of a soul that has missed its duty. Twenty years he wandered,—twenty years and more; and yet the hard rasping question kept gnawing within him, “What, in God’s name, am I on earth for?” In the narrow New York parish his soul seemed cramped and smothered. In the fine old air of the English University he heard the millions wailing over the sea. In the wild fever-cursed swamps of West Africa he stood helpless and alone. 

Alexander Crummell School

You will not wonder at his weird pilgrimage,—you who in the swift whirl of living, amid its cold paradox and marvellous vision, have fronted life and asked its riddle face to face. And if you find that riddle hard to read, remember that yonder black boy finds it just a little harder; if it is difficult for you to find and face your duty, it is a shade more difficult for him; if your heart sickens in the blood and dust of battle, remember that to him the dust is thicker and the battle fiercer. No wonder the wanderers fall! No wonder we point to thief and murderer, and haunting prostitute, and the never-ending throng of unhearsed dead! The Valley of the Shadow of Death gives few of its pilgrims back to the world. 

But Alexander Crummell it gave back. Out of the temptation of Hate, and burned by the fire of Despair, triumphant over Doubt, and steeled by Sacrifice against Humiliation, he turned at last home across the waters, humble and strong, gentle and determined. He bent to all the gibes and prejudices, to all hatred and discrimination, with that rare courtesy which is the armor of pure souls. He fought among his own, the low, the grasping, and the wicked, with that unbending righteousness which is the sword of the just. He never faltered, he seldom complained; he simply worked, inspiring the young, rebuking the old, helping the weak, guiding the strong. 

Alexander Crummell School

So he grew, and brought within his wide influence all that was best of those who walk within the Veil. They who live without knew not nor dreamed of that full power within, that mighty inspiration which the dull gauze of caste decreed that most men should not know. And now that he is gone, I sweep the Veil away and cry, Lo! the soul to whose dear memory I bring this little tribute. I can see his face still, dark and heavy-lined beneath his snowy hair; lighting and shading, now with inspiration for the future, now in innocent pain at some human wickedness, now with sorrow at some hard memory from the past. The more I met Alexander Crummell, the more I felt how much that world was losing which knew so little of him. In another age he might have sat among the elders of the land in purple-bordered toga; in another country mothers might have sung him to the cradles. 

He did his work,—he did it nobly and well; and yet I sorrow that here he worked alone, with so little human sympathy. His name to-day, in this broad land, means little, and comes to fifty million ears laden with no incense of memory or emulation. And herein lies the tragedy of the age: not that men are poor,—all men know something of poverty; not that men are wicked,—who is good? not that men are ignorant,—what is Truth? Nay, but that men know so little of men.

Alexander Crummell School

He sat one morning gazing toward the sea. He smiled and said, “The gate is rusty on the hinges.” That night at star-rise a wind came moaning out of the west to blow the gate ajar, and then the soul I loved fled like a flame across the Seas, and in its seat sat Death. 

I wonder where he is to-day? I wonder if in that dim world beyond, as he came gliding in, there rose on some wan throne a King,—a dark and pierced Jew, who knows the writhings of the earthly damned, saying, as he laid those heart-wrung talents down, “Well done!” while round about the morning stars sat singing. (source: W.E.B. DuBois, Souls of Black Folk)

New Hampshire Slave Trade


From Slavery in the North -- African slaves were noted in New Hampshire by 1645. They concentrated in the area around Portsmouth. Furthermore, as one of the few colonies that did not impose a tariff on slaves, New Hampshire became a base for slaves to be imported into America then smuggled into other colonies. Every census up to the Revolution showed an increase in black population, though they remained proportionally fewer than in most other New England colonies.

As across the North, wartime attrition destroyed slavery as a viable economic institution. Between 1773 and 1786, the number of New Hampshire slaves fell from 674 to 46. Many obtained freedom by running away to the British in Boston, others by serving in the Continental Army. Desperate to fill its regiments, New Hampshire had offered bounties to slaveholders who manumitted black recruits.

The rhetoric of Revolution and liberty was felt here, too, but the practical effect was often wanting. In 1779, Prince Whipple, a slave of a New Hampshire Continental Army officer, and 18 other blacks sent a petition to the legislature seeking emancipation. They used Revolutionary rhetoric, and wrote that slavery was incompatible with "justice, humanity, and the rights of mankind," but the petition was ignored.

The 1783 state constitution declared "all men are born equal and independent," with natural rights, "among which are enjoying and defending life and liberty." This was very close to the language that led, via the courts, to the end of slavery in Massachusetts. But there are no judicial records from New Hampshire to indicate that this was construed there as ending slavery. Many clearly felt it did, but whether for all slaves, or only to children of slaves born after 1783, is not clear.

Slaves were removed from the rolls of taxable property in 1789, but the act appears to have been for taxing purposes only. The 1790 census counted 158 slaves; but in 1800, there were only 8. Portsmouth traders participated legally in the slave trade until 1807. No slaves were counted for the state in 1810 and 1820, but three are listed in 1830 and one in 1840.

A commonly accepted date for the end of slavery in New Hampshire is 1857, when an act was passed stating that "No person, because of decent, should be disqualified from becoming a citizen of the state." The act is interpreted as prohibiting slavery. By a strict interpretation, however, slavery was outlawed only on Dec. 6, 1865, when the 13th amendment went into effect. (Ratified by New Hampshire July 1, 1865.) [Slavery in the North ]

With a minuscule number of slaves in its population (a mere one-fifteenth of one percent in 1860), New Hampshire was one of the more liberal states of the North in terms of restrictive laws. Except for barring blacks from the militia, it left them to do most other things. For instance, in 1860, New Hampshire was one of only 5 states that allowed blacks to vote.

But when abolitionists pressed their agenda, or when the mere possibility of a black in-migration arose, the people could act as decisively as those in Ohio or Indiana.

In March 1835, for instance, a group of 28 white and 14 black students sat down to begin classes at the newly founded Noyes Academy, a private school in Caanan, N.H. The school was a pet project of New England abolitionists, who figured prominently on its board. They admitted qualified students, regardless of race, and they made it an item of the school's policy, as outlined in its prospectus, "to afford colored youth a fair opportunity to show that they are capable, equally with the whites, of improving themselves in every scientific attainment, every social virtue, and every Christian ornament."

The black students seem to have been drawn largely from New York City (they rode up in segregated steamboats), and the roster features several names that went on to prominence in the civil rights struggles. But, though the abolitionists had written glowingly of the little town's acceptance of this social experiment, the citizens of Canaan called a meeting and declared that they did not accept it at all, that they were more than four-fifths opposed the academy, and that they were "determined to take effectual measures to remove it."

On the Fourth of July, 1835, a mob approached the building, but they dispersed when confronted by a local magistrate. But later that month, the Town Meeting appointed a committee to do away with the school in "the interest of the town, the honor of the State, and the good of the whole community (both black and white)."

The committee accomplished its work on Aug. 10. It rounded up men from neighboring towns and nearly 100 yoke of oxen, and they pulled the school building off its foundation and dragged it to the town common, beside the Baptist meeting house, where it could be prevented from being used as intended. When the job was done, the committee met briefly to condemn abolitionism, praise the Constitution, and invoke the memories of the patriots of '76. "So ended the day," the "Concord Patriot" wrote, "joyful to the friend of his country, but sorrowful to the Abolitionists." Early in 1839, a fire of unreported origin destroyed the former school building.

Speaking in Congress, New Hampshire Sen. Isaac Hill defended the citizens, saying their goal had been to thwart the abolitionist scheme to mingle the children of the two races. But rumors around the town before the decisive action centered on fear of an influx of blacks, and visions of ramshackle huts full of fugitive slaves lining the streets of Canaan, of town tax rates driven sky high by black paupers and good citizens subject to public nuisances. [Slavery in the North ]

James DeWolfe-Perry will be joined by Reverend Lauren Smith of Portsmouth's South Church, and University of New Hampshire Professors Jeffrey Bolster and David Watters in a panel discussion of questions raised in the film about the Atlantic slave trade as a cornerstone of Northern commercial life, how it drove the economy of many port cities including those of the Seacoast region, and the relevance of this history today.

Dr. Kathleen Wheeler of Independent Archeological Consultants will complete the program by describing her team’s discoveries at the African Burying Ground on Chestnut Street after it was accidentally exposed during a public works project in 2003.

'The Dumbest Generation' by Mark Bauerlein

'The Dumbest Generation' by Mark Bauerlein

How dumb are we? Thanks to the Internet, dumb and dumber, this author writes, Book Review by Lee Drutman, in The LA Times, on July 5, 2008  --  In the four minutes it probably takes to read this review, you will have logged exactly half the time the average 15- to 24-year-old now spends reading each day. That is, if you even bother to finish. If you are perusing this on the Internet, the big block of text below probably seems daunting, maybe even boring. Who has the time? Besides, one of your Facebook friends might have just posted a status update!

Such is the kind of recklessly distracted impatience that makes Mark Bauerlein fear for his country. "As of 2008," the 49-year-old professor of English at Emory University writes in "The Dumbest Generation," "the intellectual future of the United States looks dim."

The way Bauerlein sees it, something new and disastrous has happened to America's youth with the arrival of the instant gratification go-go-go digital age. The result is, essentially, a collective loss of context and history, a neglect of "enduring ideas and conflicts." Survey after painstakingly recounted survey reveals what most of us already suspect: that America's youth know virtually nothing about history and politics. And no wonder. They have developed a "brazen disregard of books and reading."

Things were not supposed to be this way. After all, "never have the opportunities for education, learning, political action, and cultural activity been greater," writes Bauerlein, a former director of Research and Analysis at the National Endowment for the Arts. But somehow, he contends, the much-ballyhooed advances of this brave new world have not only failed to materialize -- they've actually made us dumber.

The problem is that instead of using the Web to learn about the wide world, young people instead mostly use it to gossip about each other and follow pop culture, relentlessly keeping up with the ever-shifting lingua franca of being cool in school. The two most popular websites by far among students are Facebook and MySpace. "Social life is a powerful temptation," Bauerlein explains, "and most teenagers feel the pain of missing out."

This ceaseless pipeline of peer-to-peer activity is worrisome, he argues, not only because it crowds out the more serious stuff but also because it strengthens what he calls the "pull of immaturity." Instead of connecting them with parents, teachers and other adult figures, "[t]he web . . . encourages more horizontal modeling, more raillery and mimicry of people the same age." When Bauerlein tells an audience of college students, "You are six times more likely to know who the latest American Idol is than you are to know who the speaker of the U.S. House is," a voice in the crowd tells him: " 'American Idol' IS more important."

Bauerlein also frets about the nature of the Internet itself, where people "seek out what they already hope to find, and they want it fast and free, with a minimum of effort." In entering a world where nobody ever has to stick with anything that bores or challenges them, "going online habituates them to juvenile mental habits."

And all this feeds on itself. Increasingly disconnected from the "adult" world of tradition, culture, history, context and the ability to sit down for more than five minutes with a book, today's digital generation is becoming insulated in its own stultifying cocoon of bad spelling, civic illiteracy and endless postings that hopelessly confuse triviality with transcendence. Two-thirds of U.S. undergraduates now score above average on the Narcissistic Personality Inventory, up 30% since 1982, he reports.

At fault is not just technology but also a newly indulgent attitude among parents, educators and other mentors, who, Bauerlein argues, lack the courage to risk "being labeled a curmudgeon and a reactionary."

But is he? The natural (and anticipated) response would indeed be to dismiss him as your archetypal cranky old professor who just can't understand why "kids these days" don't find Shakespeare as timeless as he always has. Such alarmism ignores the context and history he accuses the youth of lacking -- the fact that mass ignorance and apathy have always been widespread in anti-intellectual America, especially among the youth. Maybe something is different this time. But, of course. Something is different every time.

The book's ultimate doomsday scenario -- of a dull and self-absorbed new generation of citizens falling prey to demagoguery and brazen power grabs -- seems at once overblown (witness, for example, this election season's youth reengagement in politics) and also yesterday's news (haven't we always been perilously close to this, if not already suffering from it?). But amid the sometimes annoyingly frantic warning bells that ding throughout "The Dumbest Generation," there are also some keen insights into how the new digital world really is changing the way young people engage with information and the obstacles they face in integrating any of it meaningfully. These are insights that educators, parents and other adults ignore at their peril. (source: LA Times)

Edgefield District Pottery: Origins of Southern Stoneware

The Augusta Chronicle reported on 19 February 2004, "Edgefield District jugs, jars are becoming prized pottery" -- Cool to the touch and sturdy even after more than a century of use and disuse, the antebellum jugs and jars made in South Carolina's Edgefield District have become revered as prized collectibles.

Glazed a distinctive green or brown, many with the fingerprints and signature marks of their makers etched in their faces, original Edgefield pots are selling in the thousands of dollars at art auctions and on eBay.

"The people who made these things would be amazed at what they are valued at," said Stephen Ferrell, a potter and ceramics historian who runs Old Edgefield Pottery in Edgefield, S.C.

Once used for storing meats, meal or molasses and made by plantation workers, both freemen and slave artisans, Edgefield pots sold for about 10 cents a gallon, Mr. Ferrell said.

Just three weeks ago, a pot linked to Dave, a literate slave whose technique and tendency to write poetry on his wares made him a superstar of Edgefield pottery, sold for $30,000 at auction.

Other pieces, including one acquired for $185,000 by the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, are selling for even more.

The price spike is part history and part economics, Mr. Ferrell said.

Intended for everyday use, in a time before the Mason jar revolutionized food storage, the pots produced from about 1810-1920 in the Edgefield District - which includes present-day Edgefield, Trenton, Saluda, McCormick and Aiken - were widely touted as some of the best ware in the nation.

Their characteristic alkaline glaze, a mix of Chinese technique, made them not only durable and safe but also attractive, Mr. Ferrell explained.

"You didn't have to have pretty designs to make them functional, but they did," Mr. Ferrell said. "They are beautiful from an art perspective. They've been made so beautifully that they've surpassed that (functional) use."

Their unique style and the plantation economy that the potteries grew out of made pots more than just containers.

"Slaves made many things: tables, chairs ... but with this, this is something that they marked," Mr. Ferrell said. "It's the story behind them, the people that made them" that make the pieces so coveted by collectors.

Otis Williams, of Evans, began collecting Edgefield pottery about 15 years ago.

"I started collecting because I was interested in the history of the South during that period," Mr. Williams said. "From my point of view, it is very important to preserve the history that we have."

Mr. Williams said that he wanted to know how people lived and that the pots presented an answer to that.

"Why would a person want an old pot? You have a piece of history that came from the earth, made by hand and was essential to survival in that era," he said. "You got to eat."

With more than 1 million pieces produced during the heyday of the Edgefield potteries, that importance is underscored.

Still, very few of the Edgefield pots remain intact.

"Part of them got broken in the usual way, or people just threw them away," Mr. Ferrell said.

So, along with being beautiful and old, Edgefield pottery is rare, which makes it a perfect fit for a market that values those three traits.

Private collectors aren't the only ones taking notice. Rumors that a national slave museum will be constructed and a growing appreciation of Southern culture have led many museums to buy Edgefield pieces.

Along with works at the High Museum, Edgefield pottery is displayed in museums from the McKissick Museum in Columbia to the Smithsonian Institution.

"Major museums and collections buying Edgefield pottery is kind of a 'go' for other collectors," Mr. Ferrell said. That "market approval" has led to increasing prices, he added.

"It's developing at such a rate, where I used to feel fairly confident saying this is a $5,000 vase, it sells for much higher," he said.

Mr. Williams, who has about 45 pieces in his collection, recalls buying his first Dave piece for about $250; it's now worth about four times as much.

From watching the trend, he isn't sure he could even afford the pieces of his collection today. Each time he goes to auction, he said, he is priced out.

"It's very difficult to put a price on history," Mr. Williams said. "And it is very difficult to find a quality Edgefield pot. That's why the bidders go through the roof."

It's also why more people are getting in to the hunt, Mr. Ferrell said.

"More and more daily, I hear of people in South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia starting to collect Edgefield pottery. People from blue-collar workers to dentists to doctors and lawyers to people in the accounting world that think it's an investment," he said.

Even celebrities such as Bill Cosby and Cicely Tyson are said to be collecting.

"When you have people like that in the market, they are all going to want articles that are genuine, " Mr. Ferrell said. (source: The Augusta Chronicle)


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