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The Unsung Heroes

Author of work:
Paul Laurence Dunbar
A song for the unsung heroes who rose in the country's need,When the life of the land was threatened by the slaver's cruel greed,For the men who came from the cornfield, who came from the plough and the flail,Who rallied round when they heard the sound of the mighty man of the rail.
They laid them down in the valleys, they laid them down in the wood,And the world looked on at the work they did, and whispered, 'It is good.'They fought their way on the hillside, they fought their way in the glen,And God looked down on their sinews brown, and said, 'I have made them men.'
They went to the blue lines gladly, and the blue lines took them in,And the men who saw their muskets' fire thought not of their dusky skin.The gray lines rose and melted beneath their scathing showers,And they said, ''T is true, they have force to do, these old slave boys of ours.'
Ah, Wagner saw their glory, and Pillow knew their blood,That poured on a nation's altar, a sacrificial flood.Port Hudson heard their war-cry that smote its smoke-filled air,And the old free fires of their savage sires again were kindled there.
They laid them down where the rivers the greening valleys gem.And the song of the thund'rous cannon was their sole requiem,And the great smoke wreath that mingled its hue with the dusky cloud,Was the flag that furled o'er a saddened world, and the sheet that made their shroud.
Oh, Mighty God of the Battles Who held them in Thy hand,Who gave them strength through the whole day's length, to fight for their native land,They are lying dead on the hillsides, they are lying dead on the plain,And we have not fire to smite the lyre and sing them one brief strain.
Give, Thou, some seer the power to sing them in their might,The men who feared the master's whip, but did not fear the fight;That he may tell of their virtues as minstrels did of old,Till the pride of face and the hate of race grow obsolete and cold.
A song for the unsung heroes who stood the awful test,When the humblest host that the land could boast went forth to meet the best;A song for the unsung heroes who fell on the bloody sod,Who fought their way from night to day and struggled up to God.

About the author

Paul Laurence Dunbar photo
Paul Laurence Dunbar
424 works

About the poet

Dunbar was born in Dayton, Ohio to parents who had escaped from slavery; his father was a veteran of the American Civil War, having served in the 55th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment and the 5th Massachusetts Colored Cavalry Regiment. His parents instilled in him a love of learning and history. He was a student at an all-white high school, Dayton Central High School, and he participated actively as a student. During high school, he was both the editor of the school newspaper and class president, as well as the president of the school literary society. Dunbar had also started the first African-American newsletter in Dayton.

He wrote his first poem at age 6 and gave his first public recital at age 9. Dunbar's first published work came in a newspaper put out by his high school friends Wilbur and Orville Wright, who owned a printing plant. The Wright Brothers later invested in the Dayton Tattler, a newspaper aimed at the black community, edited and published by Dunbar.

His first collection of poetry, Oak and Ivy, was published in 1892 and attracted the attention of James Whitcomb Riley, the popular "Hoosier Poet". Both Riley and Dunbar wrote poems in both standard English and dialect. His second book, Majors and Minors (1895) brought him national fame and the patronage of William Dean Howells, the novelist and critic and editor of Harper's Weekly. After Howells' praise, his first two books were combined as Lyrics of Lowly Life and Dunbar started on a career of international literary fame. He moved to Washington, D.C., in the LeDroit Park neighborhood. While in Washington, he attended Howard University.

His wife Alice Dunbar Nelson was a famous poet as well. A graduate of Dillard University in New Orleans, her most famous works include a short story entitled "Violets". She and her husband also wrote books of poetry as companion pieces. An account of their love, life and marriage was depicted in a play by Kathleen McGhee-Anderson titled Oak and Ivy.

He kept a lifelong friendship with the Wrights, and was also associated with Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington. Brand Whitlock was also described as a close friend. He was honored with a ceremonial sword by President Theodore Roosevelt.

He wrote a dozen books of poetry, four books of short stories, five novels, and a play. He also wrote lyrics for In Dahomey - the first musical written and performed entirely by African-Americans to appear on Broadway in 1903; the musical comedy played successfully toured England and America over a period of four years - one of the more successful theatrical productions of its time. His essays and poems were published widely in the leading journals of the day. His work appeared in Harper's Weekly, the Saturday Evening Post, the Denver Post, Current Literature and a number of other publications. During his life, considerable emphasis was laid on the fact that Dunbar was of pure black descent, with no white ancestors ever.

Dunbar's work is known for its colorful language and use of dialect, and a conversational tone, with a brilliant rhetorical structure.

Dunbar traveled to England in 1897 to recite his works on the London literary circuit. He met the brilliant young black composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor who some of his poems to music and who was influenced by Dunbar to use African and American Negro songs and tunes in future compositions.

After his return, Dunbar took a job at the Library of Congress in Washington. In 1900, Dunbar was diagnosed with tuberculosis, and moved to Colorado with his wife on the advice of his doctors. Dunbar died at age thirty-three on February 9, 1906 from tuberculosis, and was interred in the Woodland Cemetery, Dayton, Ohio.

Massachusetts Colored Cavalry Regiment. His parents instilled in him a love of learning and history.
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