With weary feet the paths of pain


Horace Pippin (February 22, 1888 – July 6, 1946), was a self-taught African-American painter whose subject matter ranged from trench warfare to historical, and religious.

He was born West Chester, Pennsylvania until he was three when his family moved to Goshen, New York. He left school at fifteen to support his ailing mother. After she died, he moved to New Jersey and worked various jobs before enlisting in the army in 1917. During the war, he recorded his experiences, including drawings. His papers are housed at the Archives of American ArtHe seriously wounded his right arm in France and received the French Croix de Guerre. He left the army in 1919 and married the following year before returning to West Chester, Pennsylvania.

Pippin’s injury led him to explore other artistic expressions, including pyrography, or burnt-wood panels (he drew on wood using hot pokers). But he preferred oil painting and it became a form of therapy to deal with his memories from the war. In the early 1930s, he completed an oil panting on the about his experiences, called The End of the War: Starting Home.

He was the first black painter to use art to express concerns about war and sociopolitical injustice, and to have his paintings accepted by the West Chester County Art Association. He became known regionally and in 1939 his fame spread when the Robert Carlen Galleries of Philadelphia became his dealer. The following year, Pippin gave sporadic lectures at the Barnes Foundation in Merion, Pennsylvania. His most renowned works include three paintings of the abolitionist John Brown. He also created a series of paintings based on the Bible and the works of the Quaker painter Edward Hicks.

In 1938, the Museum of Modern Art included four of Pippin’s paintings in a traveling exhibit. By the time he died in 1946, he had solo shows in Philadelphia, New York, San Francisco, and Chicago, had won prizes in important contemporary art shows had become famous internationally, and sold most of his 130 paintings, wood panels, and drawings to museums and influential collectors across the country.

You can help transcribe his writings through the Smithsonian Digital Volunteer program. 


Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (September 24, 1825–February 22, 1911) was a poet, fiction writer, journalist, and activist. She was born in Baltimore, the only child of free black parents. She attended the Academy for Negro Youth, which her uncle founded, until age 13. Then she went to work in a Quaker household where she read a wide range of literature.

In 1850, Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act, which required escaped slaves who were captured to be returned to their masters. Harper moved to Ohio and began teaching at the Union Seminary, a new school for black children in Columbus. The principal was abolitionist John Brown. Harper was the first black woman to teach vocational courses at the school, teaching domestic and homemaking skills.

In 1851, Harper moved to Pennsylvania and worked with William Still, Chairman of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society, which helped slaves escape to Canada on the Underground Railroad. She became a traveling speaker on abolition and wrote for anti-slavery newspapers, becoming the “mother of African American journalism.”

She was a prolific writer who published many poetry collections, such as Autumn Leaves (also published as Forest Leaves) (1845); Sketches of Southern Life (1872), about the post-Civil War (1861-1865) Reconstruction and novels, including Iola Leroy (1892), essay collections, and short stories, such as “The Two Offers,” the first short story published by an African American.

She married Fenton Harper in 1860. After he died in 1864, Harper continued to support her family though speaking engagements. She championed civil rights, women’s rights, and educational opportunities for all. She was superintendent of the Colored Section of the Philadelphia and Pennsylvania Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), co-founder and vice president of the National Association of Colored Women, and a member of the American Woman Suffrage Association, and director of the American Association of Colored Youth. Harper died nine years before women gained the right to vote.

“In the end we must live independent or die”


In 1915, Dr. Carter G. Woodson travelled from Chicago to DC to participate in celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the emancipation proclamation. He was among the thousands of black people who went to see the exhibit which highlighted the progress made since slavery had been abolished. The event inspired Woodson who formed the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH) to “to promote the scientific study of black life and history.”

The following year, he established the Journal of Negro History, and encouraged black civic organizations to promote researchers’ findings. In 1924, his fraternity brothers at the Omega Psi Phi, created Negro History and Literature Week, later renamed Negro Achievement Week. Wanting to reach a wider audience, Woodson decided in 1925 that the ASNLH would take over and announced Negro History Week in February, 1926.

February was chosen for several reasons: 1. It included the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglas, which black communities had celebrated for several decades. However, Woodson wanted to broaden the scope. He believed that the focus should be on “the countless black men and women who had contributed to the advance of human civilization.” The response was overwhelming. Teachers solicited materials and history clubs were established, and soon mayors issued proclamations for Negro History Week.

Over the next decades, efforts to expand Negro History Week increased and in many communities Negro History Week became Negro History Month. In 1976, Negro History Week became Black History Month, and, because of the ASNLH’s efforts, since the mid-1970s, every president has issued a proclamation endorsing the annual theme.


Haiti is often left out of Black History Month. The first inhabitants of what are now Haiti and the Dominican Republic were the Taíno, who may have arrived as early as 4000 BCE. Other indigenous groups from present-day Venezuela joined them and settled across the Caribbean. The Taino name for the island was Ay-ti meaning “land of mountains.” Columbus re-named it La Isla Española (‘The Spanish Island’) when he arrived in 1492, which evolved to Hispaniola.

The Spanish brought sugar cane from the Canary Islands, causing a significant increase in West African slaves in the early sixteenth century. This led to the first major slave revolt in the Americas in 1522. The uprising occurred at the sugar plantation of Diego Colón, Christopher Columbus’s son. Many slaves escaped to the mountains and form the first communities of freed slaves. The communities grew as more imported slaves escaped. This instability led the French to establish control of parts of the island and the nearby island of La Tortue (Tortuga) in the early 1600s. In 1664, France formally claimed the western portion of Haiti, which they called Saint-Domingue. Thy too, established plantations, with coffee in addition to sugar, importing millions of Africans as slave labor. As with the Spanish, thousands escaped into the mountains and established free settlements. By 1790 there were more than 500,000 enslaved Africans, 28,000 free gens de couleur, the free, mostly mixed-race intermediate class, and about 30,000 Europeans (mostly French), who held all political and economic power.

In August 1791, enslaved Africans in the north rebelled and the revolution spread. A Haitian born man Toussaint L’Ouverture soon took control and formed alliances with the gens de couleur and the escaped slaves. By 1794, L’Ouverture’s forces had liberated the colony from French control. In response, Napoleon Bonaparte sent a contingent of French troops in 1801 to subdue the colony and reinforce slavery. L’Ouverture was captured and taken to France where he died in prison the next year.

But this was not the end. Others took up the cause and the French army defeated. On January 1, 1804, Haiti declared its independence. It became the second independent republic in the New World after the United States and was re-named Hayti (Haiti). The 1805 Constitution, which reaffirmed the abolition of slavery, made Haiti the first free black state in the Western hemisphere. Official racial distinctions were eliminated, and all Haitians were considered black.

France refused to recognize Haiti’s independence until the 1830s when Haiti agreed to pay 150 million francs (over $21 billion) to compensate French plantation owners for their losses. This plunged the Haitian government into debt, truing it from one of France’s wealthiest colonies to one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere. In 1844, the eastern two-thirds of the island declared its independence and became the Republic of Santo Domingo (today, the Dominican Republic). The United States did not recognize the nation until 1862.

In 1915, during the First World War, the United States, which already controlled the Dominican Republic, invaded Haiti. The occupation ended in 1934 and was then controlled by a mixed-race minority. In 1957, Dr François Duvalier was elected by popular vote. However, his regime was soon being criticized for its harsh treatment of political adversaries. When he died in 1971, his 19-year-old son Jean-Claude Duvalier took control.

On February 7, 1986, Jean-Claude Duvalier, the “president for life” of Haiti, who had succeeded his father in 1971 at 19, fled to France after an uprising against the dictator. Five years later, on February 7, 1991, Jean-Bertrand Aristide became the first democratically-elected president of Haiti. However, Aristide’s time in office was also not without controversy, with rumours of human rights abuse, drug trafficking, and other crimes. He was ousted by a coup in 1991, returned to power in 1994 to finish his term, then re-elected in 2001. But he was ousted in another coup in 2004 before going into exile in South Africa, which he is forbidden to leave, until he was permitted to return to Haiti in 2011. In March 2017, Aristide survived a possible assassination attempt in Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital.

After the earthquake in Haiti in 2010, Julia Gaffield, a Canadian graduate student at Duke University, found “the first known, government-issued version of Haiti’s founding document” in the British National Archives. She found the eight page document in a leather-bound binder of Jamaican records from 1804.


On February 7, 2013, Mississippi became the last state in the United States to certify the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery. The resolution was ratified in 1995 but was never sent to the U.S Archivist. The error was discovered after a Mississippi resident Ranjan Batra saw the film Lincoln, which includes the fight the pass the Thirteenth Amendment. Batra did some research and learned that the amendment was ratified after three-fourths of the states approved it in December 1865. The other states did, though Mississippi did not ratify it until 1995. But the amendment was never made official because the U.S. Archivist was not notified, though the reasons are unclear. The Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann sent a copy of the resolution to the Office of the Federal Register on January 30 and the Federal Register made the ratification official on February 7, 2013.