A hundred years before BLM – was wondering if you could do light house-keeping

A hundred years before BLM:
“Dear Mr. Watkins … was wondering if you could do light house-keeping…”
 
– Excerpt, March 1919, the president of a vocational college in Effingham, IL replying to a letter from Lucian B. Watkins, a black poet a who had inquired about boarding options once he arrived to study a “real” vocation (as the only black student).
 
Lucian B. Watkins was a black man, a poet who died in his early 40s about a hundred years ago. He was featured in today’s daily poets.org newsletter (which often features public domain works from long-forgotten never-famous poets). His bio on poets.org was only 3 short sentences. But I found an online archive with 3 scanned letters from him, the first two of which are poignant vignettes.
 
The first letter (referenced above), and Mr. Watkins’ dignified response ought to be famous.
 
And his next letter, to W. E. B. Du Bois, is equally powerful… the heartfelt testimony of a man who “tried my best to forget poetry” while enduring the necessity to learn a “sure enough bread-winning vocation” while every fiber of his being instead demanded “the making of a quatrain.”
 
Mr. Watkins served his country in WWI a few years before these letters. And died about a year after writing them. May he rest in peace.
 
Citation: Watkins, Lucian Bottow, 1878-. Letter from Lucian B. Watkins to Bissell Colleges, April 1, 1919. W. E. B. Du Bois Papers (MS 312). Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries
 

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