April 7 - Remembering a Great Leader

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On April 7, 1895, a memorial service took place in Dayton to honor Frederick Douglass, who had died unexpectedly on February 20.  Paul Laurence Dunbar met Douglass in 1893 during the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, and Douglass became one of Paul's earliest supporters.  Paul recited a poem at the service, and the event concluded with a musical "chant" using words written by Paul.

In Memoriam
Frederick Douglass


Poem  Paul Laurence Dunbar

Chant - "Oh!  Douglass, Thou Art Gone from Us"
Words by P. L. Dunbar
Music by Miss Lulu Henderson

Program for Frederick Douglass memorial service, April 7, 1895.  Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 3).

Newspaper reports spoke favorably of Paul's poem, which was the first of two he wrote about Douglass during his career.  It was published the following year in Paul's book Lyrics of Lowly Life.

The colored people of Dayton united in a memorial service last evening to do honor to the memory of the distinguished patriot, friend and benefactor of their race, the late Frederick Douglass.  A pleasing and instructive program was rendered.  The poem of Mr. Dunbar, who is a graduate of the Dayton schools, was entitled "Frederick Douglass," and dealt with the nobility of his character and life work.

"Douglass Memorial."  The Dayton Evening Herald (Dayton, Ohio).  April 8, 1895.  Page 3.

Dayton, O. -- The Douglass memorial meeting held at Masonic Hall was a grand affair, indeed.  The hall was artistically draped and despite the inclemency of the weather a large audience was present.  All the speeches, as well as the music, were excellent, including of course Mr. Dunbar's poem.  It was a gem.

"The Douglass Meeting."  The Gazette (Cleveland, Ohio).  April 13, 1895.  Page 2.

A hush is over all the teeming lists,
And there is pause, a breath-space in the strife;
A spirit brave has passed beyond the mists
And vapors that obscure the sun of life.
And Ethiopia, with bosom torn,
Laments the passing of her noblest born.

Thro' good and ill report he cleaved his way
Right onward, with his face set toward the heights,
Nor feared to face the foeman's dread array --
The lash of scorn, the sting of petty spites.
He dared the lightning in the lightning's track,
And answered thunder with his thunder back.

No miser in the good he held was he --
His kindness followed his horizon's rim.
His heart, his talents and his hands were free
To all who truly needed aught of him.
Where poverty and ignorance were rife,
He gave his bounty as he gave his life.

We weep for him, but we have touched his hand,
And felt the magic of his presence nigh,
The current that he sent thro'out the land,
The kindling spirit of his battle-cry
O'er all that holds us we shall triumph yet
And place our banner where his hopes were set!

Oh, Douglass, thou hast passed beyond the shore,
But still thy voice is ringing o'er the gale!
Thou'st taught thy race how high her hopes may soar
And bade her seek the heights, nor faint, nor fail.
She will not fail, she heeds thy stirring cry,
She knows thy guardian spirit will be nigh,
And rising from beneath the chast'ning rod,
She stretches out her bleeding hands to God!

Excerpt from "Frederick Douglass," by Paul Laurence Dunbar.  Published in Lyrics of Lowly Life (1896).