For Your Cloudy Days

This is a letter from Queen Esther Gupton Cheatham Jones to her daughter Renee Cheatham Neblett.  Renee, an artist and teacher, founded Kokrobitey Institute, an art and education center in Ghana.  The letter is from Letters From Black America, edited by Pamela Newkirk.

Dear Renee,

An institution is the lengthened shadow of one person.  Life gives nothing to mortals except earth’s great labor.  In reference to your Kokrobitey School: The test of progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.  This is sunshine for your cloudy days.




From Son To Mother

This is a letter from Robert Murphy, brother of Paul Laurence Dunbar, to Matilda Dunbar.  It’s from Letters From Black America.

Dear Mother,

One year ago you lost a son and I a brother and on this day memories make our minds bleed afresh but we can comfort ourselves this way.  But a few more days and we too shall pass into that land of shadows.  Will was amiable, lovable, sympathetic, and kind and very few people knew him well enough to appreciate these qualities in him but to those who did, they realize that the world was bettered by him having lived in it…

Sorrowing on this day with you is

Your Loving Son


From One Father To His Son

This letter is a part of the collection of letters in Letters From Black America edited by Pamela Newkirk.  I’ve posted one other letter on the blog.  If these stories-in-the-form-of-letters, or the idea of them is interesting to you, take a look at the book.  I think you’ll find a narrative of the African American experience as well as delightful examples of language about family, love, and a host of other aspects of Black life.

My dear Son Rudolph,

I am in receipt of your letter and have read it carefully.  I know that in many respects I must appear a stranger father and rather disinterested, but that is not the case.  There is more of the Indian stoicism in me than the Negro loquacity.  When I am deeply moved I am least demonstrative.  You were exactly about my age when you made your choice.  I have not tried to dominate your selection in any way.  I have taken the girl only on what your mother has said.  She intimated the probability of this last year, and seemed satisfied.  I therefore made myself satisfied.  I hope your choice will be all you desire and as you have expressed it, she may prove as noble a wife as your mother is.  I suppose really that I should have interested myself in Isabel when she was here last.  But to tell the truth, it did not occur to me.  Just tell her for me that she must take me as she finds me.  Make herself at home whenever she comes around me and do not look for any gushing over as it is not my way.  Let her know that I will take her to my bosom just as warmly as either of you boys and would do as much for her as for any of you.

All I ask is that you boys will not neglect your mother, for, hale and active as I appear, my time is fast approaching and I feel that my [illegible] is not far off…

Wishing you the best,

Your loving father

DuBois Writing His Daughter

This letter is included in Letters From Black America, a volume of letters covering subjects like family and love and art and education, edited by Pamela Newkirk.  In this letter, W.E.B. Du Bois writes to his fourteen-year-old daughter, Yolande.

Dear Little Daughter:

I have waited for you to get well settled before writing.  By this time I hope some of the strangeness has worn off and  my little girl is working hard and regularly.

Of course, everything is new and unusual.  You miss the newness and smartness of America.  Gradually, however, you are going to sense the beauty of the old world: its calm and eternity and you will grow to love it.

Above all remember, dear, that you have a great opportunity.  You are in one of the world’s best schools, in one of the world’s greatest modern empires.  Millions of boys and girls all over this world would give almost anything they possess to be where you are.  You are there by no desert or merit of yours, but only by lucky chance.

Deserve it, then.  Study, do you work.  Be honest, frank and fearless and get some grasp of the real values of life.  You will meet, of  course, curious little annoyances.  People will wonder at your dear brown and the sweet crinkly hair.  But that simply is of no importance and will be soon forgotten.  Remember that most folk laugh at anything unusual whether it is beautiful, fine or not.  You, however, must not laugh at yourself.  You must know that brown is as pretty as white or prettier and crinkly hair as straight even though it is harder to comb.  The main thing is the YOU beneath the clothes and skin–the ability to do, the will to conquer, the determination to understand and know this great, wonderful, curious world.  Don’t shrink from new experiences and custom.  Take the cold bath bravely.  Enter into the spirit of your big bedroom.  Enjoy what is and not pine for what is not.  Read some good, heavy, serious books just for discipline: Take yourself in hand and master yourself.  Make yourself do unpleasant things, so as to gain the upper hand of your soul.

Above all remember: your father loves you and believes in you and expects you to be a wonderful woman.

I shall write each week and expect a weekly letter from you.

Lovingly yours,


I’d say that Dr. Du Bois’s letter has much to say to his daughter and to your child and mine.  And to us probably.