August 25 - On the World's Stage

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On August 25, 1893, Paul Laurence Dunbar recited his poem "Ode to Ethiopia" during Colored American Day at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago.  Paul was 21 years old and had come to Chicago hoping to find employment and a broader audience for his writings at the World's Fair.

In earnest words, Fred Douglass yesterday spoke for the negro race at the Columbian Exposition.  Shaking his white mane and trembling with the vehemence of his eloquence, the old man for more than half an hour held 2,500 persons under a spell.  It was Colored American day at the Fair.  The old man, his long white hair falling about his face, leaned far over and pointed downward, all the wrongs of his race afire in his voice.  Paul Dunbar of Dayton, O., the author of "Oak and Ivy," was presented and read an original poem.  Miss Hallie Q. Brown recited a couple of dramatic selections, and Joseph Douglass, a grandson of Frederick, played several classical numbers on the violin.

"Appeal of Douglass."  The Chicago Tribune (Chicago, Illinois).  August 26, 1893.  Page 3.

The music for the occasion was furnished by some jubilee singers and a young violinist, Mr. Joseph Douglass, a grandson of Frederick Douglass, in addition to some other musicians of note.  Mr. Douglass was the orator of the occasion, his subject being "The Race Problem in America."  Miss Hallie Q. Brown, the elocutionist, read "The Black Regiment," and a poem composed for the occasion was recited by Paul Dunbar, its author.

"Colored People's Day."  Saturday Evening Telegraph (Alton, Illinois).  August 26, 1893.  Page 1.

Paul's reading on Colored American Day generated positive exposure and brought him into contact with prominent African Americans who remained friends and supporters for the rest of his career.

Paul Dunbar has, undoubtedly, a great future and it is not expecting too much to look for some work from his pen which will arrest the attention of all the people of the land.  His poem read by himself on Colored American Day at the Fairgrounds has made him well known to the people of Chicago.

"Tribute to Negro Poets," The Freeman (Indianapolis, Indiana).  November 11, 1893.  Page 2.

While he was still a mere boy, Dunbar met Frederick Douglass, who greatly admired him.  He was subsequently employed by Mr. Douglass as clerk in the Haitian building at the World's Fair.  While there, Dunbar recited his poem "Ethiopia" on Colored American Day.

"Writes Good Verse," by James D. Corrothers.  Unidentified newspaper clipping [Chicago, Illinois.  December 19, 1895].  Paul Laurence Dunbar collection, New York Public Library, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture (Microfilm edition, Roll 3).

While there is little possibility of your remembering my name, I may be able to recall to your mind the circumstance of my delivering the ode on Negro Day at the World's Fair, when I had you to thank for very kind and encouraging words.

Paul Laurence Dunbar to Alexander Crummell, September 9, 1894.  Paul Laurence Dunbar collection, New York Public Library, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture (Microfilm edition, Roll 3).

"Ode to Ethiopia" appeared in Paul's first volume of poetry, Oak and Ivy.

O Mother Race! to thee I bring
This pledge of faith unwavering,
This tribute to thy glory.
I know the pangs which thou didst feel,
When Slavery crushed thee with its heel,
With thy dear blood all gory.


Sad days were those -- ah, sad indeed!
But through the land the fruitful seed
Of better times was growing.
The plant of freedom upward sprung,
And spread its leaves so fresh and young --
Its blossoms now are blowing.

Be proud, my Race, in mind and soul;
Thy name is writ on Glory's scroll
In characters of fire.
High 'mid the clouds of Fame's bright sky
Thy banner's blazoned folds now fly,
And truth shall lift them higher.

Excerpt from "Ode to Ethiopia," by Paul Laurence Dunbar.  Published in Oak and Ivy (1893).