"It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have." ~ James Baldwin
"Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.
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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Alice Dunbar-Nelson

For as long as we have segregated schools... we will have a biracial standard, and the Negro one will inevitably be lower. ~ Alice Dunbar Nelson, in Facing Life Squarely

Born to Creole parents in New Orleans on July 19, 1875, Alice Ruth Moore received a teaching certificate from Straight University (now Dillard University) in 1892 and taught English in the New Orleans public school system. Her first collection of verse and short stories, Violets and Other Tales, was published in 1895. She began a correspondence with poet Paul Lawrence Dunbar and the two married in 1898. Her second collection, Goodness of St. Roque and Other Stories, was published as a companion to his Poems of Cabin and Field.

They separated in 1902, and she moved to Wilmington, Delaware, where she taught at Howard High School and directed summer classes at the State College for Colored Students and Hampton Institute. She also co-edited and wrote for the A.M.E. Review. In 1916 she married poet and civil rights activist Robert J. Nelson.

She was active in feminist issues of the day, and was a women's suffrage movement field organizer for the mid-Atlantic states. During World War I she served with the Women's Commission on the Council of National Defense and the Circle of Negro War Relief. In 1924 she campaigned for the passage of the Dyer anti-Lynching Bill.

Her essays and reviews were published in newspapers, academic journals and magazines such as the Urban League's Opportunity and the NAACP's Crisis. Her writing often dealt with issues of race, class and gender, as did her later poems such as "The Proletariat Speaks" and "I Sit and Sew". She died in Philadelphia on September 18, 1935 at the age of 60.
I Sit and Sew

I sit and sew -- a useless task it seems
My hands grown tired, my head weighed down with dreams—

The panoply of war, the martial tred of men,
Grim-faced, stern-eyed, gazing beyond the ken
Of lesser souls, whose eyes have not seen Death,
Nor learned to hold their lives but as a breath—
But—I must sit and sew.

I sit and sew—my heart aches with desire—
That pageant terrible, that fiercely pouring fire
On wasted fields, and writhing grotesque things
Once men. My soul in pity flings
Appealing cries, yearning only to go
There in that holocaust of hell, those fields of woe—
But—I must sit and sew.

The little useless seam, the idle patch;
Why dream I here beneath my homely thatch,
When there they lie in sodden mud and rain,
Pitifully calling me, the quick ones and the slain?
You need me, Christ! It is no roseate dream
That beckons me—this pretty futile seam,
It stifles me—God, must I sit and sew?

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