Paul Laurence Dunbar
“Paul Laurence Dunbar stands out as the first poet from the Negro race in the United States to show a combined mastery over poetic material and poetic technique, to reveal innate literary distinction in what he wrote, and to maintain a high level of performance. He was the first to rise to a height from which he could take a perspective view of his own race. He was the first to see objectively its humor, its superstitions, its short-comings; the first to feel sympathetically its heart-wounds, its yearnings, its aspirations, and to voice them all in a purely literary form.” - James Weldon Johnson
A friend of James Weldon Johnson, Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872 - 1906) was the first African-American poet to earn national acceptance and distinction. Born in Dayton, Ohio, Dunbar was his high school paper’s editor-in-chief, publishing his first poems at the age of 16. One of the first African-American writers with an international reputation, Dunbar wrote the lyrics for the first all-African-American musical produced on Broadway in 1903. Two years earlier, Dunbar visited Jacksonville for a speaking engagement. Recently diagnosed with tuberculosis, he ended up staying in the home of James Weldon Johnson in LaVilla for six weeks recuperating. During his time in Jacksonville, Johnson took note of Dunbar sending poems to various leading literary journals of the era, with acceptance notes and checks coming back almost immediately.
Booker T. Washington
One of the founders of the National Negro Business League and key proponent of African-American businesses, Booker Taliaferro Washington (1856 - 1915) was a dominant leader in the African-American community during the late 19th and early 20th century. Although the Tuskegee, Alabama-based Washington visited Jacksonville several times, his 1912 trip may have been the most colorful.
In 1912, Washington conducted a Florida tour, visiting Pensacola, Tallahassee, Lake City, Ocala, Tampa, Lakeland, Eatonville and Daytona before concluding the trip in Jacksonville on March 7th and 8th. Washington’s visit to town was arranged by the Jacksonville Negro Business League, which was led by several influential African-Americans including Joseph Blodgett, Abraham Lincoln Lewis, Charles Anderson, Lawton Pratt and William Sumter. Arriving by special train from Daytona, Washington visited several schools and points of interest and attended a banquet in Old Fellows Hall. He also gave a speech to 2,500 citizens at the Duval Theatre.
At the time, a local African-American man had been accused of a crime. In fear of a lynching possibly taking place, Washington was encouraged to cancel his stop in Jacksonville. Nevertheless, he came any way and on their way to the Duval Theatre, an automobile in his entourage was stopped by a crowd of angrily white men who demanded that Washington be handed over to them. When it was discovered that he was not in the car, the men allowed the driver to go without harm. Later, at the Duval Theatre, Washington urged African-American residents to buy as much land as possible, get rid of immoral leaders, denounced lynching and appealed for better race relations.
Article by Ennis Davis, AICP. Contact Ennis at firstname.lastname@example.org