Alice Dunbar Nelson

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Alice Dunbar Nelson

Alice Dunbar Nelson (July 19, 1875 – September 18, 1935) was an American poet, journalist, and political activist. Among the first generation born free in the South after the Civil War, she was one of the prominent African Americans involved in the artistic flourishing of the Harlem Renaissance. Her first husband was the poet Paul Laurence Dunbar. After his death, she married physician Henry A. Callis; and, lastly, was married to Robert J. Nelson, a poet and civil rights activist. She achieved prominence as a poet, author of short stories and dramas, newspaper columnist, activist for women's rights, and editor of two anthologies.



"Lincoln and Douglass" (February 11, 1917)

  • Frederick Douglass once said: Any man may say things that are true of Abraham Lincoln, but no man can say anything that is new of Abraham Lincoln. If that were true in the past century, in the early seventies, how much more is it true today
  • It is eminently fitting and proper that we, as Americans, celebrate the birth of the man who, by a single stroke of his pen — albeit, a reluctant stroke — gave the Negro the right to stand with his face to the sun and proclaim to the world, “I am a man!” It is our right and our duty to commemorate his birth, to mourn his death, to revere the twelfth of February as a holiday, to come together to lay laurel wreaths on his tomb. But we Americans of the darker skin have another day as dear to us as the twelfth of February, less well known, perhaps, but which we should acclaim with shouts of joy, even as we acclaim the day which has grown familiar by long usage. That day is the birthday of Frederick Douglass. Lincoln and Douglass; Douglass and Lincoln! Names ever linked in history and in the hearts of a grateful race as the two great emancipators, the two men above all other Americans, fearless, true, brave, strong, the western ideal of manhood. Is it not fitting that their natal days should come within a few hours of each other. Is it not right that when the Negro child lifts its eyes to the American flag on Lincoln’s day e should, at the same time, think of the man whose thunderous voice never ceased in its denunciation of wrong, its acclamation of right, its spurring the immortal Lincoln to be true to his highest ideals; its sorrowful wail when he seemed to fail the nation? Verily, on this day of days we of the darker hued skin have a richer heritage than our white brothers — ours the proud possession of two heroes, theirs of but one. . . .
  • Every school boy in the nation knows Abraham Lincoln — his gaunt figure, his seamed and pain lined face, with its sweetness and patience, are familiar to their eyes. His life, with its romance of poverty and toil, its tragic sorrow and tragic end, are as close to the heart of the nation as the stories of the Bible and the Christ-child. The utterances of Lincoln, the anecdotes of his life, the whimsical stories of his early days and his quaint humor furnish a never ending theme of interest to the American school boy. His sublime speeches; the delicate pathos of his first inaugural address; the splendid, stern, yet tender beauty of the second inaugural address are recited from thousands of school platforms annual, while the Gettysburg speech is as well known in America as the Lord’s Prayer and the Beatitudes, and I deem it no sacrilege to say that in point of literary beauty it stands with them. It is graven in bronze in the national cemeteries, on school walls, in the halls of colleges and universities. It is recited semi-annually by the majority of the school boys in the country, and it is right that it should be, for is not Lincoln the nation’s idol, the American ideal?
  • Yet how many Negro youths in the land know as much of the ideal of Negro manhood, Frederick Douglass? If Lincoln is the American idol, so is Douglass the Negro’s idol. If Lincoln’s was a romance of life, with its toilsome youth culminating in a splendid manhood, attaining the highest gift which the nation could be stow, how much more is Douglass’ life a romance? The slave, beaten, starved, stripped, fleeing from slavery at the most deadly peril, to become in his later manhood the guest of nobles and kings, the cynosure of the nation’s eyes, the friend of this same Lincoln, the great man of the century? If Lincoln’s utterances are inspiring, calling in clarion notes for right and justice and truth, so much more are Douglass’ inspiring to us, calling for manhood and strength and power. For he was no soft-tongued apologist,/He spoke straightforward, fearlessly, uncowed;/The sunlight of his truth dispelled the mist,/And set in bold relief each dark-hued cloud;/To sin and crime he gave their proper hue,/And hurled at evil what was evil’s due.
  • The Negro youth of the land recites the Gettysburg speech, and it is right that he should do so; but does he know Douglass’ “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” The Negro youth of the land admires Lincoln’s Second Inaugural address, but does he know Douglass’ splendid tribute to the man who wrote the Second Inaugural address, when the freedmen of this country erected the Lincoln monument at Washington? The Negro youth rolls over his tongue the witty epigrams of the mighty Lincoln, but has he been made familiar with some of the pithy aphorisms of his own Douglass?
  • Abraham Lincoln does not need the tribute we give him today; the world is paying him tributes greater than ours, more glorious and resounding. But the sweeter praise which we pay him is that of a race, profiting by the lesson of a life. Fame has written Lincoln’s name with the greatest men of the world with the statesmen, with the wisest of monarchs, with the prince of republicans — and placed his laurel wreath higher than the rest. But it remains for the descendants of slaves to give him what no man in history has ever had — the divine breath of gratitude, the determination to make the world see, centuries hence, that he was not mistaken in his greatest deed, his life work, his martyrdom.
  • But Frederick Douglass, whom we honor equally, has not yet had the full meed of his praise, and we celebrate the passing of his natal day with a finer appreciation of what he has done for us, and of what his life will mean, not only to the men who were his contemporaries, nor yet to us of a later generation, but to the race of the future; to the children yet unborn. History has not yet given him his rightful place on its pages, but the history of. tomorrow will place him where he should be — with the courageous, the wise, the far-seeing. It remains for us, his own people, to pour out at his altar the incense he deserves, the praise he merits; to let his life be a beacon to light us to that higher, truer patriotism — the fearlessness of real manhood.
  • Lincoln and Douglass; Douglass and Lincoln! May their names ever be welded into one memory in the hearts of every Negro in the land!
  • Hamilton Wright Mabie says that the question for each man to settle is not what he would do if he had means, time, influence, and educational advantages, but what he will do with the things he has. In all history there are few men who have answered this question. Among them none have answered it more effectively than he whom we have gathered to honor to-night — David Livingstone. The term “social service,” which is on every one’s lips now, was as yet uncoined when David Livingstone was born. But it was none the less true, that without overmuch prating of the ideal which is held up to the man of to-day as the only one worth striving for, the sturdy pioneers of Livingstone’s day and ilk realized to the highest the ideal of man’s duty to his fellow-man.
  • who knew and understood them as human beings, and not as beasts, the slavery trade was, as he expressed it, “the open sore of Africa.” Over and again he voiced his belief that the Negro freeman was a hundred time more valuable than the slave. He repeatedly enjoined those who had the fitting out of his expeditions not to send him slaves to accompany him on his journeys, but freemen, as they were more trustworthy. He voiced the fundamental truth that he who is his own master is he who obeys and believes in his master. The slave trade in Africa was dealt its death-blow by Dr. Livingstone.
  • Dear to his heart was Lincoln, the Emancipator, an ideal hero whom he consistently revered. Away to the southwest from Kamolondo is a large lake which discharges its waters by the important river, Lomami, into the great Lualaba. To this lake, known as the Chobungo by the natives, Dr. Livingstone gave the name of Lincoln, in memory of him for whom your noble institution was named. This was done because of a vivid impression produced on his mind by hearing a portion of Lincoln’s inauguration speech from an English pulpit, which related to the causes that induced him to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. To the memory of the man whom Livingstone revered he has contributed a monument more durable than brass or stone.
  • One idea mastered him — to give Africa to the world.
  • To you, of the younger generation, what a marvel, what a world of meaning in those words — “I have been taught patience.” We, who fret and chafe because the whole world will not bend its will to our puny strivings, and turn its whole course that we might have our unripe desires fulfilled, should read and re-read of the man who could wait, because he knew that time and all eternity would be bent to meet his desires in time.
  • Such a man was Livingstone, not afraid to be meek in order to be great; not afraid to “fear God and work bard;” not ashamed to stoop in order that he might raise others to his high estate. He gave the world a continent and a conscience; with the lavishness almost of Nature herself he bestowed cataracts and rivers, lakes and mountains, forests and valleys, upon his native land. He stirred the soul of the civilized world to the atrocities of the slave trade, and he made it realize that humanity may be found even in the breast of a savage. When he laid down his life in the forest he loved, he laid upon the altar of humanity and science the costliest and sweetest sacrifice that it had known for many a weary age.
  • The life of service; the life of unselfish giving — this must Livingstone’s life mean to us. Unselfish, ungrudging lavishing of life and soul, even to the last drop of heart’s blood. Service that does not hesitate because the task seems small, or the waiting weary; service that does not fear to be of no account in the eyes of the world. Truly, indeed, might Wordsworth’s apostrophe to Milton be ascribed to him: “Thy soul was like a star and dwelt apart;/Thou hadst a voice whose sound was like the sea;/Pure as the naked heavens, majestic, free,/So didst thou travel on life’s common way/In cheerful godliness, and yet thy heart/The lowliest duties on itself did lay.”
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