Music, probably, has always been the companion art of poetry as the highest expression of spiritual life of a nation or a race as it has striven to give voice to its deepest feelings, desires, and profoundest attitudes toward the world.2 Professor Robert Kerlin, a Southern white man, formerly of Virginia Military Institute, says: "A people's poetry affords the most serious subject of study to those who would understand that people - that people's soul, that people's status, that people's potentialities. There has been in these years a renaissance of the Negro soul, and poetry is one of its expressions . . . perhaps the most potent and significant expression of the re-born soul of the Negro in this our day".

1Coppin, Levi J., Unwritten History, p. 106. 2 Cf. Mecklin, John M., Democracy and Race Friction, pp. 55-57.

Citing several selections from different authors to illustrate his points, Professor Kerlin continues: "In other races, oratory and poetry have been accepted as the tokens of noble qualities of character, lofty spiritual gifts. Such they are in all races. They spring from mankind's loftiest aspirations - the aspirations for freedom, for justice, for virtue, for honor, and for distinction. That these impulses, these aspirations, and these endowments are in the American Negro and are now exhibiting themselves in verse - it is this I wish to show to the skeptically minded." 1

From colonial days, the American Negroes have had their poets. In the eighteenth century was the poetess, Phillis Wheatley. Born of native parents in an African jungle, brought to America when a child, and sold as a slave to a Boston family, she was educated and wrote poetry which was appreciated in America and England. How many potential poets who never found expression were lost in those years cannot be told. Certain it is there were others, for many of the old plantation songs were composed by them. Prof. Thomas W. Talley of Fisk University, himself a Negro, brought out a book of "Negro Folk Rhymes" that contains a number of stanzas, gathered from the lips of the people, that critics say portray real poetic qualities. In 1829 a benefactor published a volume of poems of James M. Morton, a North Carolina slave, hardly able to read, who sang plaintively: 1

1Kerlin, Robert T., "Contemporary Poetry of the Negro," Hampton Bulletin, February, 1921.

Come, Melting Pity From Afar

And break this vast, enormous bar Between a wretch and thee; Purchase a few short days of time, And bid a vassal soar sublime On Wings of Liberty.

Here and there, during the early nineteenth century, in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, lines of Negro versifiers found their way into print. Negro bards had sung their songs before William Dean Howells heard Paul Lawrence Dunbar and brought him to the notice of the American public. The work of Dunbar and of William Stanley Braithwaite show evidence of poetic vision, emotion, and skill of a very high order. They are only, however, the brighter stars in a firmament illumined by many others.

Every Race Has Its Bards

The thing of far reaching significance in the case of the American Negro to-day is that these poets show distinctly and uniquely the possibilities of Negroes. They are only the forerunners of other prophets of deeper insight into life and of broader vision of its meaning who will some day speak forth. The verses of James Weldon Johnson, Charles Bertram Johnson, Joseph Cotter, Jr. and Sr., Leslie P. Hill, Georgia Douglass Johnson, and many others clearly show latent genius longing for greater opportunity. These singers, with more cultivated art than the slave could put into his "spirituals," lead Professor Kerlin to say: "Some lyrical drama like 'Prometheus Bound,' but more touching and more human; some epic like 'Paradise Lost,' but nearer to the common heart of man; some 'Divine Comedy,' that shall be the voice of those silent centuries of slavery as Dante's poem was the voice of the long-silent epoch preceding it, is not the improbable achievement of some descendent of the slaves."1

1 Quoted in E. A. Johnson's School History of the Negro Race in America, p. 43, from the Raleigh (N. C.) Register, July 2, 1829.

Not alone in poetry, but in other forms of literature is there promise of production. The stories of Uncle Remus collected and told by Joel dandier Harris were made around the cabin firesides of Negroes. Alexander Dumas was a mulatto. Charles W. Chesnutt wrote short stories and novels that had their day of general popularity. A West Indian Negro reared in France won the Goncourt prize in 1921 for the best novel describing native conditions in Central Africa. The "Quest of the Silver Fleece" and the prose poems in "Souls of Black Folk" and "Darkwater" will win for W. E. B. DuBois a place as a writer long after the controversies over the "race problem" are ended. The orations of Frederick Douglass almost touch the scale of eloquence of Edmund Burke. Booker Washington's autobiography, "Up From Slavery," has become classic, with translations into many languages. Prose writers of greater ability may yet arise.

Capacity For Art

The world of painting and sculpture yields evidence of fruitful expressions of Negro mind. Experiments tried with several groups of Negro children without previous instruction in water coloring showed a surprising "feeling tone" for harmony in color combinations. Frequently exercises in free-hand drawing and clay modeling taken at random from grammar school Negro children show a sense of form and proportion beyond that which had been taught them. Henry O. Tanner had to go abroad to get full opportunity to study. He remained abroad permanently to do the work which has classed him among the masters. His "Daniel in the Lion's Den," his "Washing the Disciples' Feet," "The Walk to Emmaus," "The Annunciation," and several other masterpieces have been accepted in the Louvre and other leading art galleries. He has won fame especially for wonderful harmony of light and color.

E. M. Bannister, Richard Lonsdale Brown, Mary Howard Jackson, Edmonia Lewis, Meta Warwick Fuller, and John Henry Adams are prophetic of the many promising recruits to art when the sum of full American opportunity beams upon this people.

1 Kerlin, Robert T., work cited.