The Souls of Black Folk
W. E. B. Du Bois.

Part 4 out of 4

far away from our Southern home,--held him, and glanced
at the hot red soil of Georgia and the breathless city of a
hundred hills, and felt a vague unrest. Why was his hair
tinted with gold? An evil omen was golden hair in my life.
Why had not the brown of his eyes crushed out and killed the
blue?--for brown were his father's eyes, and his father's
father's. And thus in the Land of the Color-line I saw, as it
fell across my baby, the shadow of the Veil.

Within the Veil was he born, said I; and there within shall
he live,--a Negro and a Negro's son. Holding in that little
head--ah, bitterly!--he unbowed pride of a hunted race,
clinging with that tiny dimpled hand--ah, wearily!--to a hope
not hopeless but unhopeful, and seeing with those bright
wondering eyes that peer into my soul a land whose freedom
is to us a mockery and whose liberty a lie. I saw the shadow
of the Veil as it passed over my baby, I saw the cold city
towering above the blood-red land. I held my face beside his
little cheek, showed him the star-children and the twinkling
lights as they began to flash, and stilled with an even-song
the unvoiced terror of my life.

So sturdy and masterful he grew, so filled with bubbling
life, so tremulous with the unspoken wisdom of a life but
eighteen months distant from the All-life,--we were not far
from worshipping this revelation of the divine, my wife and
I. Her own life builded and moulded itself upon the child; he
tinged her every dream and idealized her every effort. No
hands but hers must touch and garnish those little limbs; no
dress or frill must touch them that had not wearied her
fingers; no voice but hers could coax him off to Dreamland,
and she and he together spoke some soft and unknown tongue
and in it held communion. I too mused above his little white
bed; saw the strength of my own arm stretched onward
through the ages through the newer strength of his; saw the
dream of my black fathers stagger a step onward in the wild
phantasm of the world; heard in his baby voice the voice of
the Prophet that was to rise within the Veil.

And so we dreamed and loved and planned by fall and
winter, and the full flush of the long Southern spring, till the
hot winds rolled from the fetid Gulf, till the roses shivered
and the still stern sun quivered its awful light over the hills of
Atlanta. And then one night the little feet pattered wearily to
the wee white bed, and the tiny hands trembled; and a warm
flushed face tossed on the pillow, and we knew baby was
sick. Ten days he lay there,--a swift week and three endless
days, wasting, wasting away. Cheerily the mother nursed him
the first days, and laughed into the little eyes that smiled
again. Tenderly then she hovered round him, till the smile
fled away and Fear crouched beside the little bed.

Then the day ended not, and night was a dreamless terror,
and joy and sleep slipped away. I hear now that Voice at
midnight calling me from dull and dreamless trance,--crying,
"The Shadow of Death! The Shadow of Death!" Out into the
starlight I crept, to rouse the gray physician,--the Shadow of
Death, the Shadow of Death. The hours trembled on; the
night listened; the ghastly dawn glided like a tired thing
across the lamplight. Then we two alone looked upon the
child as he turned toward us with great eyes, and stretched his
stringlike hands,--the Shadow of Death! And we spoke no
word, and turned away.

He died at eventide, when the sun lay like a brooding
sorrow above the western hills, veiling its face; when the
winds spoke not, and the trees, the great green trees he loved,
stood motionless. I saw his breath beat quicker and quicker,
pause, and then his little soul leapt like a star that travels in
the night and left a world of darkness in its train. The day
changed not; the same tall trees peeped in at the windows, the
same green grass glinted in the setting sun. Only in the
chamber of death writhed the world's most piteous thing--a
childless mother.

I shirk not. I long for work. I pant for a life full of striving.
I am no coward, to shrink before the rugged rush of the
storm, nor even quail before the awful shadow of the Veil.
But hearken, O Death! Is not this my life hard enough,--is
not that dull land that stretches its sneering web about me
cold enough,--is not all the world beyond these four little
walls pitiless enough, but that thou must needs enter here,
--thou, O Death? About my head the thundering storm beat
like a heartless voice, and the crazy forest pulsed with the
curses of the weak; but what cared I, within my home beside
my wife and baby boy? Wast thou so jealous of one little
coign of happiness that thou must needs enter there,--thou, O

A perfect life was his, all joy and love, with tears to make
it brighter,--sweet as a summer's day beside the Housatonic.
The world loved him; the women kissed his curls, the men
looked gravely into his wonderful eyes, and the children
hovered and fluttered about him. I can see him now, chang-
ing like the sky from sparkling laughter to darkening frowns,
and then to wondering thoughtfulness as he watched the world.
He knew no color-line, poor dear--and the Veil, though it
shadowed him, had not yet darkened half his sun. He loved
the white matron, he loved his black nurse; and in his little
world walked souls alone, uncolored and unclothed. I--yea,
all men--are larger and purer by the infinite breadth of that
one little life. She who in simple clearness of vision sees
beyond the stars said when he had flown, "He will be happy
There; he ever loved beautiful things." And I, far more
ignorant, and blind by the web of mine own weaving, sit
alone winding words and muttering, "If still he be, and he be
There, and there be a There, let him be happy, O Fate!"

Blithe was the morning of his burial, with bird and song
and sweet-smelling flowers. The trees whispered to the grass,
but the children sat with hushed faces. And yet it seemed a
ghostly unreal day,--the wraith of Life. We seemed to rum-
ble down an unknown street behind a little white bundle of
posies, with the shadow of a song in our ears. The busy city
dinned about us; they did not say much, those pale-faced
hurrying men and women; they did not say much,--they
only glanced and said, "Niggers!"

We could not lay him in the ground there in Georgia, for
the earth there is strangely red; so we bore him away to the
northward, with his flowers and his little folded hands. In
vain, in vain!--for where, O God! beneath thy broad blue sky
shall my dark baby rest in peace,--where Reverence dwells,
and Goodness, and a Freedom that is free?

All that day and all that night there sat an awful gladness in
my heart,--nay, blame me not if I see the world thus darkly
through the Veil,--and my soul whispers ever to me saying,
"Not dead, not dead, but escaped; not bond, but free." No
bitter meanness now shall sicken his baby heart till it die a
living death, no taunt shall madden his happy boyhood. Fool
that I was to think or wish that this little soul should grow
choked and deformed within the Veil! I might have known
that yonder deep unworldly look that ever and anon floated
past his eyes was peering far beyond this narrow Now. In the
poise of his little curl-crowned head did there not sit all that
wild pride of being which his father had hardly crushed in his
own heart? For what, forsooth, shall a Negro want with pride
amid the studied humiliations of fifty million fellows? Well
sped, my boy, before the world had dubbed your ambition
insolence, had held your ideals unattainable, and taught you
to cringe and bow. Better far this nameless void that stops my
life than a sea of sorrow for you.

Idle words; he might have borne his burden more bravely
than we,--aye, and found it lighter too, some day; for surely,
surely this is not the end. Surely there shall yet dawn some
mighty morning to lift the Veil and set the prisoned free. Not
for me,--I shall die in my bonds,--but for fresh young souls
who have not known the night and waken to the morning; a
morning when men ask of the workman, not "Is he white?"
but "Can he work?" When men ask artists, not "Are they
black?" but "Do they know?" Some morning this may be,
long, long years to come. But now there wails, on that dark
shore within the Veil, the same deep voice, THOU SHALT FOREGO!
And all have I foregone at that command, and with small
complaint,--all save that fair young form that lies so coldly
wed with death in the nest I had builded.

If one must have gone, why not I? Why may I not rest me
from this restlessness and sleep from this wide waking? Was
not the world's alembic, Time, in his young hands, and is not
my time waning? Are there so many workers in the vineyard
that the fair promise of this little body could lightly be tossed
away? The wretched of my race that line the alleys of the
nation sit fatherless and unmothered; but Love sat beside
his cradle, and in his ear Wisdom waited to speak. Perhaps
now he knows the All-love, and needs not to be wise. Sleep,
then, child,--sleep till I sleep and waken to a baby voice and
the ceaseless patter of little feet--above the Veil.


Of Alexander Crummell

Then from the Dawn it seemed there came, but faint
As from beyond the limit of the world,
Like the last echo born of a great cry,
Sounds, as if some fair city were one voice
Around a king returning from his wars.


This is the story 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 com-
mencement 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. Fourscore
years had he wandered in this same world of mine, within the

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 curi-
ously a vision of Life; and in the midst of that vision ever
stood one dark figure alone,--ever with the hard, thick coun-
tenance of that bitter father, and a form that fell in vast and
shapeless folds. Thus the temptation of Hate grew and shad-
owed 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.

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?"

So in that little Oneida school there came to those school-
boys 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 righteous-
ness. 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 prema-
ture. Sometime, we trust--sincerely trust--all such distinc-
tions will fade away; but now the world is as it is."

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 admit-
tance, 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 life-work,--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 whisper-
ing, "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.

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 Philadel-
phia, 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."

I sometimes fancy I can see that tableau: the frail black
figure, nervously twitching his hat before the massive abdo-
men of Bishop Onderdonk; his threadbare coat thrown against
the dark woodwork of the bookcases, 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 bottom-
less, 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 wing-
less 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,"--

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 heav-
ily: "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 Cam-
bridge, 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.

You will not wonder at his weird pilgrimage,--you who in
the swift whirl of living, amid its cold paradox and marvel-
lous 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 tempta-
tion 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 fal-
tered, he seldom complained; he simply worked, inspiring the
young, rebuking the old, helping the weak, guiding the strong.

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 sym-
pathy. 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.

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.


Of the Coming of John

What bring they 'neath the midnight,
Beside the River-sea?
They bring the human heart wherein
No nightly calm can be;
That droppeth never with the wind,
Nor drieth with the dew;
O calm it, God; thy calm is broad
To cover spirits too.

The river floweth on.


Carlisle Street runs westward from the centre of Johnstown,
across a great black bridge, down a hill and up again, by little
shops and meat-markets, past single-storied homes, until sud-
denly it stops against a wide green lawn. It is a broad, restful
place, with two large buildings outlined against the west.
When at evening the winds come swelling from the east, and
the great pall of the city's smoke hangs wearily above the
valley, then the red west glows like a dreamland down Car-
lisle Street, and, at the tolling of the supper-bell, throws the
passing forms of students in dark silhouette against the sky.
Tall and black, they move slowly by, and seem in the sinister
light to flit before the city like dim warning ghosts. Perhaps
they are; for this is Wells Institute, and these black students
have few dealings with the white city below.

And if you will notice, night after night, there is one dark
form that ever hurries last and late toward the twinkling lights
of Swain Hall,--for Jones is never on time. A long, strag-
gling fellow he is, brown and hard-haired, who seems to be
growing straight out of his clothes, and walks with a half-
apologetic roll. He used perpetually to set the quiet dining-
room into waves of merriment, as he stole to his place after
the bell had tapped for prayers; he seemed so perfectly awk-
ward. And yet one glance at his face made one forgive him
much,--that broad, good-natured smile in which lay no bit of
art or artifice, but seemed just bubbling good-nature and
genuine satisfaction with the world.

He came to us from Altamaha, away down there beneath
the gnarled oaks of Southeastern Georgia, where the sea
croons to the sands and the sands listen till they sink half
drowned beneath the waters, rising only here and there in
long, low islands. The white folk of Altamaha voted John a
good boy,--fine plough-hand, good in the rice-fields, handy
everywhere, and always good-natured and respectful. But
they shook their heads when his mother wanted to send him
off to school. "It'll spoil him,--ruin him," they said; and
they talked as though they knew. But full half the black folk
followed him proudly to the station, and carried his queer
little trunk and many bundles. And there they shook and
shook hands, and the girls kissed him shyly and the boys
clapped him on the back. So the train came, and he pinched
his little sister lovingly, and put his great arms about his
mother's neck, and then was away with a puff and a roar into
the great yellow world that flamed and flared about the
doubtful pilgrim. Up the coast they hurried, past the squares
and palmettos of Savannah, through the cotton-fields and
through the weary night, to Millville, and came with the
morning to the noise and bustle of Johnstown.

And they that stood behind, that morning in Altamaha, and
watched the train as it noisily bore playmate and brother and
son away to the world, had thereafter one ever-recurring
word,--"When John comes." Then what parties were to be,
and what speakings in the churches; what new furniture in the
front room,--perhaps even a new front room; and there would
be a new schoolhouse, with John as teacher; and then perhaps
a big wedding; all this and more--when John comes. But the
white people shook their heads.

At first he was coming at Christmas-time,--but the vaca-
tion proved too short; and then, the next summer,--but times
were hard and schooling costly, and so, instead, he worked in
Johnstown. And so it drifted to the next summer, and the
next,--till playmates scattered, and mother grew gray, and
sister went up to the Judge's kitchen to work. And still the
legend lingered,--"When John comes."

Up at the Judge's they rather liked this refrain; for they too
had a John--a fair-haired, smooth-faced boy, who had played
many a long summer's day to its close with his darker
namesake. "Yes, sir! John is at Princeton, sir," said the
broad-shouldered gray-haired Judge every morning as he
marched down to the post-office. "Showing the Yankees
what a Southern gentleman can do," he added; and strode
home again with his letters and papers. Up at the great
pillared house they lingered long over the Princeton letter,--
the Judge and his frail wife, his sister and growing daughters.
"It'll make a man of him," said the Judge, "college is the
place." And then he asked the shy little waitress, "Well,
Jennie, how's your John?" and added reflectively, "Too bad,
too bad your mother sent him off--it will spoil him." And
the waitress wondered.

Thus in the far-away Southern village the world lay waiting,
half consciously, the coming of two young men, and dreamed
in an inarticulate way of new things that would be done and
new thoughts that all would think. And yet it was singular
that few thought of two Johns,--for the black folk thought of
one John, and he was black; and the white folk thought of
another John, and he was white. And neither world thought
the other world's thought, save with a vague unrest.

Up in Johnstown, at the Institute, we were long puzzled at
the case of John Jones. For a long time the clay seemed unfit
for any sort of moulding. He was loud and boisterous, always
laughing and singing, and never able to work consecutively at
anything. He did not know how to study; he had no idea of
thoroughness; and with his tardiness, carelessness, and appall-
ing good-humor, we were sore perplexed. One night we sat in
faculty-meeting, worried and serious; for Jones was in trouble
again. This last escapade was too much, and so we solemnly
voted "that Jones, on account of repeated disorder and inat-
tention to work, be suspended for the rest of the term."

It seemed to us that the first time life ever struck Jones as a
really serious thing was when the Dean told him he must
leave school. He stared at the gray-haired man blankly, with
great eyes. "Why,--why," he faltered, "but--I haven't grad-
uated!" Then the Dean slowly and clearly explained, remind-
ing him of the tardiness and the carelessness, of the poor
lessons and neglected work, of the noise and disorder, until
the fellow hung his head in confusion. Then he said quickly,
"But you won't tell mammy and sister,--you won't write
mammy, now will you? For if you won't I'll go out into the
city and work, and come back next term and show you
something." So the Dean promised faithfully, and John shoul-
dered his little trunk, giving neither word nor look to the
giggling boys, and walked down Carlisle Street to the great
city, with sober eyes and a set and serious face.

Perhaps we imagined it, but someway it seemed to us that
the serious look that crept over his boyish face that afternoon
never left it again. When he came back to us he went to work
with all his rugged strength. It was a hard struggle, for things
did not come easily to him,--few crowding memories of
early life and teaching came to help him on his new way; but
all the world toward which he strove was of his own building,
and he builded slow and hard. As the light dawned linger-
ingly on his new creations, he sat rapt and silent before the
vision, or wandered alone over the green campus peering
through and beyond the world of men into a world of thought.
And the thoughts at times puzzled him sorely; he could not
see just why the circle was not square, and carried it out
fifty-six decimal places one midnight,--would have gone
further, indeed, had not the matron rapped for lights out. He
caught terrible colds lying on his back in the meadows of
nights, trying to think out the solar system; he had grave
doubts as to the ethics of the Fall of Rome, and strongly
suspected the Germans of being thieves and rascals, despite
his textbooks; he pondered long over every new Greek word,
and wondered why this meant that and why it couldn't mean
something else, and how it must have felt to think all things
in Greek. So he thought and puzzled along for himself,--
pausing perplexed where others skipped merrily, and walking
steadily through the difficulties where the rest stopped and

Thus he grew in body and soul, and with him his clothes
seemed to grow and arrange themselves; coat sleeves got
longer, cuffs appeared, and collars got less soiled. Now and
then his boots shone, and a new dignity crept into his walk.
And we who saw daily a new thoughtfulness growing in his
eyes began to expect something of this plodding boy. Thus he
passed out of the preparatory school into college, and we who
watched him felt four more years of change, which almost
transformed the tall, grave man who bowed to us commence-
ment morning. He had left his queer thought-world and come
back to a world of motion and of men. He looked now for the
first time sharply about him, and wondered he had seen so
little before. He grew slowly to feel almost for the first time
the Veil that lay between him and the white world; he first
noticed now the oppression that had not seemed oppression
before, differences that erstwhile seemed natural, restraints
and slights that in his boyhood days had gone unnoticed or
been greeted with a laugh. He felt angry now when men did
not call him "Mister," he clenched his hands at the "Jim
Crow" cars, and chafed at the color-line that hemmed in him
and his. A tinge of sarcasm crept into his speech, and a vague
bitterness into his life; and he sat long hours wondering and
planning a way around these crooked things. Daily he found
himself shrinking from the choked and narrow life of his
native town. And yet he always planned to go back to
Altamaha,--always planned to work there. Still, more and
more as the day approached he hesitated with a nameless
dread; and even the day after graduation he seized with
eagerness the offer of the Dean to send him North with the
quartette during the summer vacation, to sing for the Insti-
tute. A breath of air before the plunge, he said to himself in
half apology.

It was a bright September afternoon, and the streets of New
York were brilliant with moving men. They reminded John of
the sea, as he sat in the square and watched them, so change-
lessly changing, so bright and dark, so grave and gay. He
scanned their rich and faultless clothes, the way they carried
their hands, the shape of their hats; he peered into the hurry-
ing carriages. Then, leaning back with a sigh, he said, "This
is the World." The notion suddenly seized him to see where
the world was going; since many of the richer and brighter
seemed hurrying all one way. So when a tall, light-haired
young man and a little talkative lady came by, he rose half
hesitatingly and followed them. Up the street they went,
past stores and gay shops, across a broad square, until
with a hundred others they entered the high portal of a great

He was pushed toward the ticket-office with the others, and
felt in his pocket for the new five-dollar bill he had hoarded.
There seemed really no time for hesitation, so he drew it
bravely out, passed it to the busy clerk, and received simply a
ticket but no change. When at last he realized that he had
paid five dollars to enter he knew not what, he stood stockstill
amazed. "Be careful," said a low voice behind him; "you
must not lynch the colored gentleman simply because he's in
your way," and a girl looked up roguishly into the eyes of
her fair-haired escort. A shade of annoyance passed over the
escort's face. "You WILL not understand us at the South," he
said half impatiently, as if continuing an argument. "With all
your professions, one never sees in the North so cordial and
intimate relations between white and black as are everyday
occurrences with us. Why, I remember my closest playfellow
in boyhood was a little Negro named after me, and surely no
two,--WELL!" The man stopped short and flushed to the roots
of his hair, for there directly beside his reserved orchestra
chairs sat the Negro he had stumbled over in the hallway. He
hesitated and grew pale with anger, called the usher and gave
him his card, with a few peremptory words, and slowly sat
down. The lady deftly changed the subject.

All this John did not see, for he sat in a half-daze minding
the scene about him; the delicate beauty of the hall, the faint
perfume, the moving myriad of men, the rich clothing and
low hum of talking seemed all a part of a world so different
from his, so strangely more beautiful than anything he had
known, that he sat in dreamland, and started when, after a
hush, rose high and clear the music of Lohengrin's swan. The
infinite beauty of the wail lingered and swept through every
muscle of his frame, and put it all a-tune. He closed his eyes
and grasped the elbows of the chair, touching unwittingly the
lady's arm. And the lady drew away. A deep longing swelled
in all his heart to rise with that clear music out of the dirt and
dust of that low life that held him prisoned and befouled. If
he could only live up in the free air where birds sang and
setting suns had no touch of blood! Who had called him to be
the slave and butt of all? And if he had called, what right had
he to call when a world like this lay open before men?

Then the movement changed, and fuller, mightier harmony
swelled away. He looked thoughtfully across the hall, and
wondered why the beautiful gray-haired woman looked so
listless, and what the little man could be whispering about. He
would not like to be listless and idle, he thought, for he felt
with the music the movement of power within him. If he but
had some master-work, some life-service, hard,--aye, bitter
hard, but without the cringing and sickening servility, without
the cruel hurt that hardened his heart and soul. When at last a
soft sorrow crept across the violins, there came to him the
vision of a far-off home, the great eyes of his sister, and
the dark drawn face of his mother. And his heart sank below the
waters, even as the sea-sand sinks by the shores of Altamaha,
only to be lifted aloft again with that last ethereal wail of the
swan that quivered and faded away into the sky.

It left John sitting so silent and rapt that he did not for some
time notice the usher tapping him lightly on the shoulder and
saying politely, "Will you step this way, please, sir?" A
little surprised, he arose quickly at the last tap, and, turning
to leave his seat, looked full into the face of the fair-haired
young man. For the first time the young man recognized his
dark boyhood playmate, and John knew that it was the Judge's
son. The White John started, lifted his hand, and then froze
into his chair; the black John smiled lightly, then grimly, and
followed the usher down the aisle. The manager was sorry,
very, very sorry,--but he explained that some mistake had
been made in selling the gentleman a seat already disposed
of; he would refund the money, of course,--and indeed felt
the matter keenly, and so forth, and--before he had finished
John was gone, walking hurriedly across the square and
down the broad streets, and as he passed the park he buttoned
his coat and said, "John Jones, you're a natural-born fool."
Then he went to his lodgings and wrote a letter, and tore it
up; he wrote another, and threw it in the fire. Then he seized
a scrap of paper and wrote: "Dear Mother and Sister--I am

"Perhaps," said John, as he settled himself on the train,
"perhaps I am to blame myself in struggling against my
manifest destiny simply because it looks hard and unpleasant.
Here is my duty to Altamaha plain before me; perhaps they'll
let me help settle the Negro problems there,--perhaps they
won't. 'I will go in to the King, which is not according to the
law; and if I perish, I perish.'" And then he mused and
dreamed, and planned a life-work; and the train flew south.

Down in Altamaha, after seven long years, all the world
knew John was coming. The homes were scrubbed and scoured,
--above all, one; the gardens and yards had an unwonted
trimness, and Jennie bought a new gingham. With some
finesse and negotiation, all the dark Methodists and Presbyteri-
ans were induced to join in a monster welcome at the Baptist
Church; and as the day drew near, warm discussions arose on
every corner as to the exact extent and nature of John's
accomplishments. It was noontide on a gray and cloudy day
when he came. The black town flocked to the depot, with a
little of the white at the edges,--a happy throng, with "Good-
mawnings" and "Howdys" and laughing and joking and
jostling. Mother sat yonder in the window watching; but
sister Jennie stood on the platform, nervously fingering her
dress, tall and lithe, with soft brown skin and loving eyes
peering from out a tangled wilderness of hair. John rose
gloomily as the train stopped, for he was thinking of the "Jim
Crow" car; he stepped to the platform, and paused: a little
dingy station, a black crowd gaudy and dirty, a half-mile of
dilapidated shanties along a straggling ditch of mud. An over-
whelming sense of the sordidness and narrowness of it all
seized him; he looked in vain for his mother, kissed coldly
the tall, strange girl who called him brother, spoke a short,
dry word here and there; then, lingering neither for hand-
shaking nor gossip, started silently up the street, raising his
hat merely to the last eager old aunty, to her open-mouthed
astonishment. The people were distinctly bewildered. This
silent, cold man,--was this John? Where was his smile and
hearty hand-grasp? "'Peared kind o' down in the mouf,"
said the Methodist preacher thoughtfully. "Seemed monstus
stuck up," complained a Baptist sister. But the white post-
master from the edge of the crowd expressed the opinion of
his folks plainly. "That damn Nigger," said he, as he shoul-
dered the mail and arranged his tobacco, "has gone North
and got plum full o' fool notions; but they won't work in
Altamaha." And the crowd melted away.

The meeting of welcome at the Baptist Church was a
failure. Rain spoiled the barbecue, and thunder turned the
milk in the ice-cream. When the speaking came at night, the
house was crowded to overflowing. The three preachers had
especially prepared themselves, but somehow John's manner
seemed to throw a blanket over everything,--he seemed so
cold and preoccupied, and had so strange an air of restraint
that the Methodist brother could not warm up to his theme
and elicited not a single "Amen"; the Presbyterian prayer
was but feebly responded to, and even the Baptist preacher,
though he wakened faint enthusiasm, got so mixed up in his
favorite sentence that he had to close it by stopping fully
fifteen minutes sooner than he meant. The people moved
uneasily in their seats as John rose to reply. He spoke slowly
and methodically. The age, he said, demanded new ideas; we
were far different from those men of the seventeenth and
eighteenth centuries,--with broader ideas of human brother-
hood and destiny. Then he spoke of the rise of charity and
popular education, and particularly of the spread of wealth
and work. The question was, then, he added reflectively,
looking at the low discolored ceiling, what part the Negroes of
this land would take in the striving of the new century. He
sketched in vague outline the new Industrial School that
might rise among these pines, he spoke in detail of the
charitable and philanthropic work that might be organized, of
money that might be saved for banks and business. Finally he
urged unity, and deprecated especially religious and denomi-
national bickering. "To-day," he said, with a smile, "the
world cares little whether a man be Baptist or Methodist, or
indeed a churchman at all, so long as he is good and true.
What difference does it make whether a man be baptized in
river or washbowl, or not at all? Let's leave all that littleness,
and look higher." Then, thinking of nothing else, he slowly
sat down. A painful hush seized that crowded mass. Little
had they understood of what he said, for he spoke an un-
known tongue, save the last word about baptism; that they
knew, and they sat very still while the clock ticked. Then at
last a low suppressed snarl came from the Amen corner, and
an old bent man arose, walked over the seats, and climbed
straight up into the pulpit. He was wrinkled and black, with
scant gray and tufted hair; his voice and hands shook as with
palsy; but on his face lay the intense rapt look of the religious
fanatic. He seized the Bible with his rough, huge hands;
twice he raised it inarticulate, and then fairly burst into
words, with rude and awful eloquence. He quivered, swayed,
and bent; then rose aloft in perfect majesty, till the people
moaned and wept, wailed and shouted, and a wild shrieking
arose from the corners where all the pent-up feeling of the
hour gathered itself and rushed into the air. John never knew
clearly what the old man said; he only felt himself held up to
scorn and scathing denunciation for trampling on the true
Religion, and he realized with amazement that all unknow-
ingly he had put rough, rude hands on something this little
world held sacred. He arose silently, and passed out into the
night. Down toward the sea he went, in the fitful starlight,
half conscious of the girl who followed timidly after him.
When at last he stood upon the bluff, he turned to his little
sister and looked upon her sorrowfully, remembering with
sudden pain how little thought he had given her. He put his
arm about her and let her passion of tears spend itself on his

Long they stood together, peering over the gray unresting

"John," she said, "does it make every one--unhappy
when they study and learn lots of things?"

He paused and smiled. "I am afraid it does," he said.

"And, John, are you glad you studied?"

"Yes," came the answer, slowly but positively.

She watched the flickering lights upon the sea, and said
thoughtfully, "I wish I was unhappy,--and--and," putting
both arms about his neck, "I think I am, a little, John."

It was several days later that John walked up to the Judge's
house to ask for the privilege of teaching the Negro school.
The Judge himself met him at the front door, stared a little
hard at him, and said brusquely, "Go 'round to the kitchen
door, John, and wait." Sitting on the kitchen steps, John
stared at the corn, thoroughly perplexed. What on earth had
come over him? Every step he made offended some one. He
had come to save his people, and before he left the depot he
had hurt them. He sought to teach them at the church, and had
outraged their deepest feelings. He had schooled himself
to be respectful to the Judge, and then blundered into his
front door. And all the time he had meant right,--and yet,
and yet, somehow he found it so hard and strange to fit his
old surroundings again, to find his place in the world about
him. He could not remember that he used to have any diffi-
culty in the past, when life was glad and gay. The world
seemed smooth and easy then. Perhaps,--but his sister came
to the kitchen door just then and said the Judge awaited him.

The Judge sat in the dining-room amid his morning's mail,
and he did not ask John to sit down. He plunged squarely into
the business. "You've come for the school, I suppose. Well
John, I want to speak to you plainly. You know I'm a friend
to your people. I've helped you and your family, and would
have done more if you hadn't got the notion of going off.
Now I like the colored people, and sympathize with all their
reasonable aspirations; but you and I both know, John, that in
this country the Negro must remain subordinate, and can
never expect to be the equal of white men. In their place,
your people can be honest and respectful; and God knows,
I'll do what I can to help them. But when they want to
reverse nature, and rule white men, and marry white women,
and sit in my parlor, then, by God! we'll hold them under if
we have to lynch every Nigger in the land. Now, John, the
question is, are you, with your education and Northern no-
tions, going to accept the situation and teach the darkies to be
faithful servants and laborers as your fathers were,--I knew
your father, John, he belonged to my brother, and he was a
good Nigger. Well--well, are you going to be like him, or are
you going to try to put fool ideas of rising and equality into
these folks' heads, and make them discontented and unhappy?"

"I am going to accept the situation, Judge Henderson,"
answered John, with a brevity that did not escape the keen
old man. He hesitated a moment, and then said shortly,
"Very well,--we'll try you awhile. Good-morning."

It was a full month after the opening of the Negro school
that the other John came home, tall, gay, and headstrong.
The mother wept, the sisters sang. The whole white town was
glad. A proud man was the Judge, and it was a goodly sight
to see the two swinging down Main Street together. And yet
all did not go smoothly between them, for the younger man
could not and did not veil his contempt for the little town,
and plainly had his heart set on New York. Now the one
cherished ambition of the Judge was to see his son mayor of
Altamaha, representative to the legislature, and--who could
say?--governor of Georgia. So the argument often waxed hot
between them. "Good heavens, father," the younger man
would say after dinner, as he lighted a cigar and stood by the
fireplace, "you surely don't expect a young fellow like me to
settle down permanently in this--this God-forgotten town
with nothing but mud and Negroes?" "I did," the Judge
would answer laconically; and on this particular day it seemed
from the gathering scowl that he was about to add something
more emphatic, but neighbors had already begun to drop in to
admire his son, and the conversation drifted.

"Heah that John is livenin' things up at the darky school,"
volunteered the postmaster, after a pause.

"What now?" asked the Judge, sharply.

"Oh, nothin' in particulah,--just his almighty air and up-
pish ways. B'lieve I did heah somethin' about his givin' talks
on the French Revolution, equality, and such like. He's what
I call a dangerous Nigger."

"Have you heard him say anything out of the way?"

"Why, no,--but Sally, our girl, told my wife a lot of rot.
Then, too, I don't need to heah: a Nigger what won't say 'sir'
to a white man, or--"

"Who is this John?" interrupted the son.

"Why, it's little black John, Peggy's son,--your old

The young man's face flushed angrily, and then he laughed.

"Oh," said he, "it's the darky that tried to force himself
into a seat beside the lady I was escorting--"

But Judge Henderson waited to hear no more. He had been
nettled all day, and now at this he rose with a half-smothered
oath, took his hat and cane, and walked straight to the

For John, it had been a long, hard pull to get things started
in the rickety old shanty that sheltered his school. The Ne-
groes were rent into factions for and against him, the parents
were careless, the children irregular and dirty, and books,
pencils, and slates largely missing. Nevertheless, he struggled
hopefully on, and seemed to see at last some glimmering of
dawn. The attendance was larger and the children were a
shade cleaner this week. Even the booby class in reading
showed a little comforting progress. So John settled himself
with renewed patience this afternoon.

"Now, Mandy," he said cheerfully, "that's better; but you
mustn't chop your words up so: 'If--the-man--goes.' Why,
your little brother even wouldn't tell a story that way, now
would he?"

"Naw, suh, he cain't talk."

"All right; now let's try again: 'If the man--'


The whole school started in surprise, and the teacher half
arose, as the red, angry face of the Judge appeared in the
open doorway.

"John, this school is closed. You children can go home
and get to work. The white people of Altamaha are not
spending their money on black folks to have their heads
crammed with impudence and lies. Clear out! I'll lock the
door myself."

Up at the great pillared house the tall young son wandered
aimlessly about after his father's abrupt departure. In the
house there was little to interest him; the books were old and
stale, the local newspaper flat, and the women had retired
with headaches and sewing. He tried a nap, but it was too
warm. So he sauntered out into the fields, complaining dis-
consolately, "Good Lord! how long will this imprisonment
last!" He was not a bad fellow,--just a little spoiled and
self-indulgent, and as headstrong as his proud father. He
seemed a young man pleasant to look upon, as he sat on the
great black stump at the edge of the pines idly swinging his
legs and smoking. "Why, there isn't even a girl worth getting
up a respectable flirtation with," he growled. Just then his
eye caught a tall, willowy figure hurrying toward him on the
narrow path. He looked with interest at first, and then burst
into a laugh as he said, "Well, I declare, if it isn't Jennie, the
little brown kitchen-maid! Why, I never noticed before what
a trim little body she is. Hello, Jennie! Why, you haven't
kissed me since I came home," he said gaily. The young girl
stared at him in surprise and confusion,--faltered something
inarticulate, and attempted to pass. But a wilful mood had
seized the young idler, and he caught at her arm. Frightened,
she slipped by; and half mischievously he turned and ran after
her through the tall pines.

Yonder, toward the sea, at the end of the path, came John
slowly, with his head down. He had turned wearily homeward
from the schoolhouse; then, thinking to shield his mother
from the blow, started to meet his sister as she came from
work and break the news of his dismissal to her. "I'll go
away," he said slowly; "I'll go away and find work, and
send for them. I cannot live here longer." And then the fierce,
buried anger surged up into his throat. He waved his arms and
hurried wildly up the path.

The great brown sea lay silent. The air scarce breathed.
The dying day bathed the twisted oaks and mighty pines in
black and gold. There came from the wind no warning, not a
whisper from the cloudless sky. There was only a black man
hurrying on with an ache in his heart, seeing neither sun nor
sea, but starting as from a dream at the frightened cry that
woke the pines, to see his dark sister struggling in the arms of
a tall and fair-haired man.

He said not a word, but, seizing a fallen limb, struck him
with all the pent-up hatred of his great black arm, and the
body lay white and still beneath the pines, all bathed in
sunshine and in blood. John looked at it dreamily, then walked
back to the house briskly, and said in a soft voice, "Mammy,
I'm going away--I'm going to be free."

She gazed at him dimly and faltered, "No'th, honey, is yo'
gwine No'th agin?"

He looked out where the North Star glistened pale above
the waters, and said, "Yes, mammy, I'm going--North."

Then, without another word, he went out into the narrow
lane, up by the straight pines, to the same winding path, and
seated himself on the great black stump, looking at the blood
where the body had lain. Yonder in the gray past he had
played with that dead boy, romping together under the sol-
emn trees. The night deepened; he thought of the boys at
Johnstown. He wondered how Brown had turned out, and
Carey? And Jones,--Jones? Why, he was Jones, and he
wondered what they would all say when they knew, when
they knew, in that great long dining-room with its hundreds
of merry eyes. Then as the sheen of the starlight stole over
him, he thought of the gilded ceiling of that vast concert hall,
heard stealing toward him the faint sweet music of the swan.
Hark! was it music, or the hurry and shouting of men? Yes,
surely! Clear and high the faint sweet melody rose and fluttered
like a living thing, so that the very earth trembled as with the
tramp of horses and murmur of angry men.

He leaned back and smiled toward the sea, whence rose the
strange melody, away from the dark shadows where lay the
noise of horses galloping, galloping on. With an effort he
roused himself, bent forward, and looked steadily down the
pathway, softly humming the "Song of the Bride,"--

"Freudig gefuhrt, ziehet dahin."

Amid the trees in the dim morning twilight he watched their
shadows dancing and heard their horses thundering toward
him, until at last they came sweeping like a storm, and he
saw in front that haggard white-haired man, whose eyes
flashed red with fury. Oh, how he pitied him,--pitied him,
--and wondered if he had the coiling twisted rope. Then, as
the storm burst round him, he rose slowly to his feet and
turned his closed eyes toward the Sea.

And the world whistled in his ears.


Of the Sorrow Songs

I walk through the churchyard
To lay this body down;
I know moon-rise, I know star-rise;
I walk in the moonlight, I walk in the starlight;
I'll lie in the grave and stretch out my arms,
I'll go to judgment in the evening of the day,
And my soul and thy soul shall meet that day,
When I lay this body down.


They that walked in darkness sang songs in the olden days--
Sorrow Songs--for they were weary at heart. And so before
each thought that I have written in this book I have set a
phrase, a haunting echo of these weird old songs in which the
soul of the black slave spoke to men. Ever since I was a child
these songs have stirred me strangely. They came out of the
South unknown to me, one by one, and yet at once I knew
them as of me and of mine. Then in after years when I came
to Nashville I saw the great temple builded of these songs
towering over the pale city. To me Jubilee Hall seemed ever
made of the songs themselves, and its bricks were red with
the blood and dust of toil. Out of them rose for me morning,
noon, and night, bursts of wonderful melody, full of the
voices of my brothers and sisters, full of the voices of the

Little of beauty has America given the world save the rude
grandeur God himself stamped on her bosom; the human
spirit in this new world has expressed itself in vigor and
ingenuity rather than in beauty. And so by fateful chance
the Negro folk-song--the rhythmic cry of the slave--stands
to-day not simply as the sole American music, but as the
most beautiful expression of human experience born this side
the seas. It has been neglected, it has been, and is, half
despised, and above all it has been persistently mistaken and
misunderstood; but notwithstanding, it still remains as the
singular spiritual heritage of the nation and the greatest gift of
the Negro people.

Away back in the thirties the melody of these slave songs
stirred the nation, but the songs were soon half forgotten.
Some, like "Near the lake where drooped the willow," passed
into current airs and their source was forgotten; others were
caricatured on the "minstrel" stage and their memory died
away. Then in war-time came the singular Port Royal experi-
ment after the capture of Hilton Head, and perhaps for the
first time the North met the Southern slave face to face and
heart to heart with no third witness. The Sea Islands of the
Carolinas, where they met, were filled with a black folk of
primitive type, touched and moulded less by the world about
them than any others outside the Black Belt. Their appear-
ance was uncouth, their language funny, but their hearts were
human and their singing stirred men with a mighty power.
Thomas Wentworth Higginson hastened to tell of these songs,
and Miss McKim and others urged upon the world their rare
beauty. But the world listened only half credulously until the
Fisk Jubilee Singers sang the slave songs so deeply into the
world's heart that it can never wholly forget them again.

There was once a blacksmith's son born at Cadiz, New
York, who in the changes of time taught school in Ohio and
helped defend Cincinnati from Kirby Smith. Then he fought at
Chancellorsville and Gettysburg and finally served in the
Freedmen's Bureau at Nashville. Here he formed a Sunday-
school class of black children in 1866, and sang with them
and taught them to sing. And then they taught him to sing, and
when once the glory of the Jubilee songs passed into the soul
of George L. White, he knew his life-work was to let those
Negroes sing to the world as they had sung to him. So in
1871 the pilgrimage of the Fisk Jubilee Singers began. North
to Cincinnati they rode,--four half-clothed black boys and
five girl-women,--led by a man with a cause and a purpose.
They stopped at Wilberforce, the oldest of Negro schools,
where a black bishop blessed them. Then they went, fighting
cold and starvation, shut out of hotels, and cheerfully sneered
at, ever northward; and ever the magic of their song kept
thrilling hearts, until a burst of applause in the Congrega-
tional Council at Oberlin revealed them to the world. They
came to New York and Henry Ward Beecher dared to wel-
come them, even though the metropolitan dailies sneered at
his "Nigger Minstrels." So their songs conquered till they
sang across the land and across the sea, before Queen and
Kaiser, in Scotland and Ireland, Holland and Switzerland.
Seven years they sang, and brought back a hundred and fifty
thousand dollars to found Fisk University.

Since their day they have been imitated--sometimes well,
by the singers of Hampton and Atlanta, sometimes ill, by
straggling quartettes. Caricature has sought again to spoil the
quaint beauty of the music, and has filled the air with many
debased melodies which vulgar ears scarce know from the
real. But the true Negro folk-song still lives in the hearts of
those who have heard them truly sung and in the hearts of the
Negro people.

What are these songs, and what do they mean? I know
little of music and can say nothing in technical phrase, but I
know something of men, and knowing them, I know that
these songs are the articulate message of the slave to the world.
They tell us in these eager days that life was joyous to the
black slave, careless and happy. I can easily believe this of
some, of many. But not all the past South, though it rose from
the dead, can gainsay the heart-touching witness of these
songs. They are the music of an unhappy people, of the
children of disappointment; they tell of death and suffering
and unvoiced longing toward a truer world, of misty wander-
ings and hidden ways.

The songs are indeed the siftings of centuries; the music is
far more ancient than the words, and in it we can trace here
and there signs of development. My grandfather's grand-
mother was seized by an evil Dutch trader two centuries ago;
and coming to the valleys of the Hudson and Housatonic,
black, little, and lithe, she shivered and shrank in the harsh
north winds, looked longingly at the hills, and often crooned
a heathen melody to the child between her knees, thus:

Do ba-na co-ba, ge-ne me, ge-ne me!
Do ba-na co-ba, ge-ne me, ge-ne me!
Ben d' nu-li, nu-li, nu-li, ben d' le.

The child sang it to his children and they to their children's
children, and so two hundred years it has travelled down to us
and we sing it to our children, knowing as little as our fathers
what its words may mean, but knowing well the meaning of
its music.

This was primitive African music; it may be seen in larger
form in the strange chant which heralds "The Coming of John":

"You may bury me in the East,
You may bury me in the West,
But I'll hear the trumpet sound in that morning,"

--the voice of exile.

Ten master songs, more or less, one may pluck from the
forest of melody-songs of undoubted Negro origin and wide
popular currency, and songs peculiarly characteristic of the
slave. One of these I have just mentioned. Another whose
strains begin this book is "Nobody knows the trouble I've
seen." When, struck with a sudden poverty, the United
States refused to fulfill its promises of land to the freedmen, a
brigadier-general went down to the Sea Islands to carry the
news. An old woman on the outskirts of the throng began
singing this song; all the mass joined with her, swaying. And
the soldier wept.

The third song is the cradle-song of death which all men
know,-"Swing low, sweet chariot,"--whose bars begin the
life story of "Alexander Crummell." Then there is the song
of many waters, "Roll, Jordan, roll," a mighty chorus with
minor cadences. There were many songs of the fugitive like
that which opens "The Wings of Atalanta," and the more
familiar "Been a-listening." The seventh is the song of the End
and the Beginning--"My Lord, what a mourning! when the
stars begin to fall"; a strain of this is placed before "The
Dawn of Freedom." The song of groping--"My way's
cloudy"--begins "The Meaning of Progress"; the ninth is
the song of this chapter--"Wrestlin' Jacob, the day is
a-breaking,"--a paean of hopeful strife. The last master song
is the song of songs--"Steal away,"--sprung from "The
Faith of the Fathers."

There are many others of the Negro folk-songs as striking
and characteristic as these, as, for instance, the three strains
in the third, eighth, and ninth chapters; and others I am sure
could easily make a selection on more scientific principles.
There are, too, songs that seem to be a step removed from the
more primitive types: there is the maze-like medley, "Bright
sparkles," one phrase of which heads "The Black Belt"; the
Easter carol, "Dust, dust and ashes"; the dirge, "My moth-
er's took her flight and gone home"; and that burst of melody
hovering over "The Passing of the First-Born"--"I hope my
mother will be there in that beautiful world on high."

These represent a third step in the development of the slave
song, of which "You may bury me in the East" is the first,
and songs like "March on" (chapter six) and "Steal away"
are the second. The first is African music, the second Afro-
American, while the third is a blending of Negro music with
the music heard in the foster land. The result is still distinc-
tively Negro and the method of blending original, but the
elements are both Negro and Caucasian. One might go further
and find a fourth step in this development, where the songs of
white America have been distinctively influenced by the slave
songs or have incorporated whole phrases of Negro melody,
as "Swanee River" and "Old Black Joe." Side by side, too,
with the growth has gone the debasements and imitations--
the Negro "minstrel" songs, many of the "gospel" hymns,
and some of the contemporary "coon" songs,--a mass of
music in which the novice may easily lose himself and never
find the real Negro melodies.

In these songs, I have said, the slave spoke to the world.
Such a message is naturally veiled and half articulate. Words
and music have lost each other and new and cant phrases of a
dimly understood theology have displaced the older senti-
ment. Once in a while we catch a strange word of an un-
known tongue, as the "Mighty Myo," which figures as a
river of death; more often slight words or mere doggerel are
joined to music of singular sweetness. Purely secular songs are
few in number, partly because many of them were turned into
hymns by a change of words, partly because the frolics were
seldom heard by the stranger, and the music less often caught.
Of nearly all the songs, however, the music is distinctly
sorrowful. The ten master songs I have mentioned tell in
word and music of trouble and exile, of strife and hiding;
they grope toward some unseen power and sigh for rest in the

The words that are left to us are not without interest, and,
cleared of evident dross, they conceal much of real poetry
and meaning beneath conventional theology and unmeaning
rhapsody. Like all primitive folk, the slave stood near to
Nature's heart. Life was a "rough and rolling sea" like the
brown Atlantic of the Sea Islands; the "Wilderness" was the
home of God, and the "lonesome valley" led to the way of
life. "Winter'll soon be over," was the picture of life and
death to a tropical imagination. The sudden wild thunder-
storms of the South awed and impressed the Negroes,--at
times the rumbling seemed to them "mournful," at times

"My Lord calls me,
He calls me by the thunder,
The trumpet sounds it in my soul."

The monotonous toil and exposure is painted in many words.
One sees the ploughmen in the hot, moist furrow, singing:

"Dere's no rain to wet you,
Dere's no sun to burn you,
Oh, push along, believer,
I want to go home."

The bowed and bent old man cries, with thrice-repeated wail:

"O Lord, keep me from sinking down,"

and he rebukes the devil of doubt who can whisper:

"Jesus is dead and God's gone away."

Yet the soul-hunger is there, the restlessness of the savage,
the wail of the wanderer, and the plaint is put in one little phrase:

My soul wants something that's new, that's new

Over the inner thoughts of the slaves and their relations one
with another the shadow of fear ever hung, so that we get but
glimpses here and there, and also with them, eloquent omis-
sions and silences. Mother and child are sung, but seldom
father; fugitive and weary wanderer call for pity and affec-
tion, but there is little of wooing and wedding; the rocks and
the mountains are well known, but home is unknown. Strange
blending of love and helplessness sings through the refrain:

"Yonder's my ole mudder,
Been waggin' at de hill so long;
'Bout time she cross over,
Git home bime-by."

Elsewhere comes the cry of the "motherless" and the "Farewell,
farewell, my only child."

Love-songs are scarce and fall into two categories--the
frivolous and light, and the sad. Of deep successful love there
is ominous silence, and in one of the oldest of these songs
there is a depth of history and meaning:

Poor Ro-sy, poor gal; Poor Ro-sy,
poor gal; Ro-sy break my poor heart,
Heav'n shall-a-be my home.

A black woman said of the song, "It can't be sung without a
full heart and a troubled sperrit." The same voice sings here
that sings in the German folk-song:

"Jetz Geh i' an's brunele, trink' aber net."

Of death the Negro showed little fear, but talked of it
familiarly and even fondly as simply a crossing of the waters,
perhaps--who knows?--back to his ancient forests again. Later
days transfigured his fatalism, and amid the dust and dirt the
toiler sang:

"Dust, dust and ashes, fly over my grave,

But the Lord shall bear my spirit home."

The things evidently borrowed from the surrounding world
undergo characteristic change when they enter the mouth of
the slave. Especially is this true of Bible phrases. "Weep, O
captive daughter of Zion," is quaintly turned into "Zion,
weep-a-low," and the wheels of Ezekiel are turned every way
in the mystic dreaming of the slave, till he says:

"There's a little wheel a-turnin' in-a-my heart."

As in olden time, the words of these hymns were impro-
vised by some leading minstrel of the religious band. The
circumstances of the gathering, however, the rhythm of the
songs, and the limitations of allowable thought, confined the
poetry for the most part to single or double lines, and they
seldom were expanded to quatrains or longer tales, although
there are some few examples of sustained efforts, chiefly
paraphrases of the Bible. Three short series of verses have
always attracted me,--the one that heads this chapter, of one
line of which Thomas Wentworth Higginson has fittingly
said, "Never, it seems to me, since man first lived and
suffered was his infinite longing for peace uttered more plain-
tively." The second and third are descriptions of the Last
Judgment,--the one a late improvisation, with some traces
of outside influence:

"Oh, the stars in the elements are falling,

And the moon drips away into blood,

And the ransomed of the Lord are returning unto God,

Blessed be the name of the Lord."

And the other earlier and homelier picture from the low
coast lands:

"Michael, haul the boat ashore,
Then you'll hear the horn they blow,
Then you'll hear the trumpet sound,
Trumpet sound the world around,
Trumpet sound for rich and poor,
Trumpet sound the Jubilee,
Trumpet sound for you and me."

Through all the sorrow of the Sorrow Songs there breathes
a hope--a faith in the ultimate justice of things. The minor
cadences of despair change often to triumph and calm confi-
dence. Sometimes it is faith in life, sometimes a faith in
death, sometimes assurance of boundless justice in some fair
world beyond. But whichever it is, the meaning is always
clear: that sometime, somewhere, men will judge men by
their souls and not by their skins. Is such a hope justified? Do
the Sorrow Songs sing true?

The silently growing assumption of this age is that the
probation of races is past, and that the backward races of
to-day are of proven inefficiency and not worth the saving.
Such an assumption is the arrogance of peoples irreverent
toward Time and ignorant of the deeds of men. A thousand
years ago such an assumption, easily possible, would have
made it difficult for the Teuton to prove his right to life. Two
thousand years ago such dogmatism, readily welcome, would
have scouted the idea of blond races ever leading civilization.
So wofully unorganized is sociological knowledge that the
meaning of progress, the meaning of "swift" and "slow" in
human doing, and the limits of human perfectability, are
veiled, unanswered sphinxes on the shores of science. Why
should AEschylus have sung two thousand years before Shake-
speare was born? Why has civilization flourished in Europe,
and flickered, flamed, and died in Africa? So long as the
world stands meekly dumb before such questions, shall this
nation proclaim its ignorance and unhallowed prejudices by
denying freedom of opportunity to those who brought the
Sorrow Songs to the Seats of the Mighty?

Your country? How came it yours? Before the Pilgrims
landed we were here. Here we have brought our three gifts
and mingled them with yours: a gift of story and song--soft,
stirring melody in an ill-harmonized and unmelodious land; the
gift of sweat and brawn to beat back the wilderness, conquer
the soil, and lay the foundations of this vast economic empire
two hundred years earlier than your weak hands could have
done it; the third, a gift of the Spirit. Around us the history of
the land has centred for thrice a hundred years; out of the
nation's heart we have called all that was best to throttle and
subdue all that was worst; fire and blood, prayer and sacri-
fice, have billowed over this people, and they have found
peace only in the altars of the God of Right. Nor has our gift
of the Spirit been merely passive. Actively we have woven
ourselves with the very warp and woof of this nation,--we
fought their battles, shared their sorrow, mingled our blood
with theirs, and generation after generation have pleaded with
a headstrong, careless people to despise not Justice, Mercy,
and Truth, lest the nation be smitten with a curse. Our song,
our toil, our cheer, and warning have been given to this
nation in blood-brotherhood. Are not these gifts worth the
giving? Is not this work and striving? Would America have
been America without her Negro people?

Even so is the hope that sang in the songs of my fathers
well sung. If somewhere in this whirl and chaos of things
there dwells Eternal Good, pitiful yet masterful, then anon in
His good time America shall rend the Veil and the prisoned
shall go free. Free, free as the sunshine trickling down the
morning into these high windows of mine, free as yonder
fresh young voices welling up to me from the caverns of
brick and mortar below--swelling with song, instinct with
life, tremulous treble and darkening bass. My children, my
little children, are singing to the sunshine, and thus they sing:

Let us cheer the wea-ry trav-el-ler,
Cheer the wea-ry trav-el-ler, Let us
cheer the wea-ry trav-el-ler A-
-long the heav-en-ly way.

And the traveller girds himself, and sets his face toward the
Morning, and goes his way.

The Afterthought

Hear my cry, O God the Reader; vouchsafe that this my
book fall not still-born into the world wilderness. Let there
spring, Gentle One, from out its leaves vigor of thought and
thoughtful deed to reap the harvest wonderful. Let the ears of
a guilty people tingle with truth, and seventy millions sigh for
the righteousness which exalteth nations, in this drear day
when human brotherhood is mockery and a snare. Thus in
Thy good time may infinite reason turn the tangle straight,
and these crooked marks on a fragile leaf be not indeed



Back to Full Books