W. E. B. Du Bois and Coleridge-Taylor

W. E. B. Du Bois and Coleridge-Taylor

 

by Jeffrey Green

 

In issue 3 of the Newsletter we examined the links between Coleridge-Taylor and America’s leading black citizen, educator Booker T. Washington. Washington died in 1915 and by the 1920s the Harvard- and Berlin-educated William E. B. Du Bois became widely regarded as a representative of African Americans. He edited the monthly Crisis for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored Peoples and took leading roles in the Pan-African Congresses (Paris, 1919; London and Brussels, 1921; London, 1923; New York, 1927). He died in Ghana in 1963.

            Du Bois (pronounced Du Boise, not in a French manner) met Coleridge-Taylor at the Pan-African Conference in London in 1900 and during later visits to England. He visited the composer and his family in Croydon and sent his friend a copy of The Souls of Black Folk (published in 1904). Letters to and from Du Bois from Coleridge-Taylor and his family include the following:

            In January 1905 the composer wrote from 10 Upper Grove, South Norwood (Croydon) to Du Bois to thank him for a copy of Credo – ‘it hangs in a most conspicuous position in our Dining room, where everyone can see it’ and asked for a portrait photograph, for C-T had seen ‘an excellent one’ when in New York. Credo was a black manifesto, likened to Martin Luther King’s I have a Dream. On 1 June 1911, when Du Bois was scheduled to be in London for the Universal Races Conference, C-T invited him to Upper Grove – ‘most certainly we shall expect you to call on us FIRST’.               The composer’s daughter Gwendolen [later Avril] married in1924, and as Gwendolen Coleridge-Taylor Dashwood wrote to Du Bois in late 1925 from her home in Coulsdon. She sent copies of a Hiawatha Calendar hoping these would interest Du Bois. Replying in early January 1926 Du Bois said that advertising calendars had taken over the market and the Crisis had ceased issuing calendars and so he held no hopes for her project in America. He ended by passing his wishes to her, her husband, her mother and brother.

            On 22 January 1926 he wrote to London congratulating the composer’s son Hiawatha on his marriage, and asked for a photograph for the Crisis as ‘your father’s many friends would appreciate it’. Hiawatha Coleridge-Taylor had married pianist Kathleen Markwell in late 1925 and their card is also in the Du Bois papers.

            On 7 November 1928 from Aldwick, the house in St Leonard’s Road, Croydon where the composer had died in 1912, his widow Jessie wrote to Du Bois thanking him for the copy of his new novel Dark Princess.

            In January 1929 Hiawatha C-T wrote seeking advice from Du Bois as he hoped to publish some of his father’s works in America and sought ‘a Negro publishing house’. Du Bois on 18 January told him to consider the large publishing houses such as Schirmer, Ricordi and Ditson [Ditson had published C-T’s Twenty-four Negro Melodies in 1905].

            There are several letters to and from the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Choral Society of Plymouth (England) in the 24 letters that emerge when you enter ‘Coleridge’ in the site: credo.library.umass.edu.   This was a pioneering enthusiastic group, founded in 1920 and had African American tenor Roland Hayes at its first concert. One of its patrons was Pixley Ka Seme, a South African who had studied in New York and Oxford and then issued, in 1911, the clarion call for unity among black South Africans which led to the founding of the African National Congress.

            The Du Bois Papers have long been available on microfilm but they were not in any order or indexed. The two volume biography of Du Bois by David Levering Lewis (1993, 2000) of over 1400 pages has Samuel Coleridge-Taylor indexed just three times. From the 24 documents now on line we could conclude Coleridge-Taylor and his family enjoyed their friendship with the American. What would we give to know what the two men talked about in England over a century ago?

 

Jeffrey Green

27 August 2011