Daniel Decatur Emmett and the American Minstrel
Banjoist, fiddler, singer, comedian, and author of plays and songs for minstrel shows, Daniel Decatur Emmett (1815-1904) is best known as the composer of the walk-around “Dixie,” originally presented by Bryant's Minstrels in 1859, and of a tune later arranged by Aaron Copland, “De Boatman Dance.” Emmett is but one of many in a succession of entertainers and composers who used the minstrel stage as a popular platform.
In the 1920's and 30's, the upper-Manhattan district of New York City called Harlem was the flourishing capital of African-American culture. Writers, musicians, artists, photographers, philosophers, and intellectuals created works that probed the black American heritage with a psychological intensity and a fierce pride.
Henry David Thoreau
"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."
From Walden, by Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)
Margaret Fuller, America's first true feminist, holds a distinctive place in the cultural life of the American Renaissance. Transcendentalist, literary critic, editor, journalist, teacher, and political activist ultimately turned revolutionary, she numbered among her close friends the intellectual prime movers of the day: Emerson, Thoreau, the Peabody sisters, the Alcotts, Horace Greeley, Carlyle, and Mazzini--all of whom regarded her with admiration and sometimes even awe.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
The Sage of Concord and the central intellectual figure of the American Renaissance, Ralph Waldo Emerson--as preacher, philosopher, and poet--embodied the finest spirit and highest ideals of his age. Emerson was a thinker of bold originality, and his essays and lectures offer models of clarity, style, and thought; this made him a formidable presence in 19th-century American life.
Scottish philosopher, writer, historian, and critic Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) dominated European and American thought in the 1830's and 1840's. A passionate Germanophile, his translations of Schiller, Goethe, and other German Romantics were profoundly influential on both sides of the Atlantic and formed a linked between German, English, and ultimately American Romantic thought. To these he added his own masterpieces, The History of the French Revolution (1837), On Heroes and Hero Worship (1840), Past and Present (1843), and his spiritual autobiography, Sartor Resartus (1833).
W.E.B. Du Bois
Author, journalist, social reformer, activist, poet, philosopher, and educator, William Edward Burghardt Du Bois (1868-1963) wielded one of the most influential pens in African-American history. For 66 years he functioned not only as a mentor, model, and spokesman for generations of black Americans, but also as the conscience of all Americans who yearned for racial equality and social justice.