December 27 - Tribute to a Friend

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On December 27, 1898, Paul Laurence Dunbar in Washington, D. C., recited a poem at a memorial service for his friend Alexander Crummell, who had died in September.

The Second Annual Meeting of the American Negro Academy


2 P. M. Memorial Session
Eulogy:- "Rev. Alexander Crummell, Our President and Founder," Mr. W. B. Hayson
Original Poem:  Paul Laurence Dunbar

Program for Annual Meeting of the American Negro Academy, December 27 and 28, 1898.  Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 3).

The first session of the second annual meeting of the American Negro Academy was held this morning in the auditorium of the Lincoln Memorial Church.  At the afternoon session W. B. Hayson delivered an address upon the life and work of the late Alexander Crummell, president and founder of the academy.  An original poem was read by Paul Laurence Dunbar.  The session closed with the reading of resolutions of respect to the memory of Alexander Crummell.

"The American Negro Academy in Session."  The Evening Times (Washington, D. C.).  December 27, 1898.  Page 2.

Back to the breast of thy mother,
Child of the earth!
E'en her caress cannot smother
What thou hast done.
Follow the trail of the westering sun
Over the earth.
Thy light and his were as one --
Sun, in thy worth.
Unto a nation whose sky was as night,
Camest thou, holily, bearing thy light:
And the dawn came,
In it thy fame
Flashed up in a flame.


Excerpt from "Alexander Crummell -- Dead," by Paul Laurence Dunbar.  Published in Lyrics of the Hearthside (1899).

Alexander Crummell was a highly-educated and influential Black clergyman, professor and writer.  After spending years in England and Africa, he returned to the U. S. where he founded a church in Washington in 1875.  Paul met Crummell in Chicago in 1893 during the World's Columbian Exposition.  A year later, Crummell unsuccessfully tried to help Paul obtain a teaching position at a high school in Washington.  Crummell spoke at the 1895 commencement ceremony at Wilberforce University, an event that Paul attended.  In 1897, he assisted Paul during his unprofitable lecture tour in England.  Later that year, Paul collaborated with Crummell and other Black intellectuals to establish the American Negro Academy.

A notable movement among the colored race is the founding of the American Negro Academy.  The prospectus says:  "This academy is an organization of authors, scholars, graduates and writers;   men of African descent, for the promotion of letters, art, literature and science;  for the creation of a form of literary taste;  to encourage and assist hesitant scholarship;  to stimulate inventive and artistic powers, and to aid in the publication of works of merit and genius."  Among those interested in it are Dr. F. J. Grimke, a graduate of Princeton;  Dr. Alexander Crummell, a graduate of Oxford, England, and an author of fine attainments;  Prof. Kelly Miller, of Howard University, and a mathematician of note;  Prof. Du Bois, a graduate of Harvard, and the foremost sociologist of the negro race;  Paul Laurence Dunbar, the poet.  All of these men are scholars and easily measure up to the higher standards.

The Daily Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana).  August 10, 1897.  Page 4.

Rev. Alexander Crummell, D. D., died Saturday at Point Pleasant, N. J.  The news of death while not unexpected was heard with sincere regret by a large circle of friends and acquaintances.  Dr. Crummell was one of the best known colored men in this country, where he had lived for the past quarter of a century.  He was a man of scholarly attainments and exercised a wide influence.

"Alexander Crummell Dead."  The Washington Bee (Washington, D. C.).  September 17, 1898.  Page 4.

When Crummell died, Paul and his wife Alice were separated and she was living with her family in Massachusetts.  Paul wrote to her about his personal feelings of loss.

I suppose that even down there in benighted Boston you have heard of the death of my old friend Dr. Crummell.  I just received a letter from him and never got a chance to answer it.  We have lost a most brilliant example of the effect of the higher education upon the pure Negro.  I grieve both as a friend and as a member of his race.

Paul Laurence Dunbar to Alice Moore Dunbar, September 12, 1898.  Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 8).