Brown, Hallie Q.
|MATILDA J. DUNBAR -- 1848--?|
" Sad days were those--ah, sad indeed!
But through the land the fruitful seed
Of better times was growing .
The plant of freedom upward sprung ,
And spread its leaves so fresh and young --
Its blossoms now are blooming."
The subject of this sketch was born in Shelby County, Kentucky. She had many thrilling experiences during the time spent in slavery. In her own language she tells some highly interesting facts concerning her life. She pondered over her condition, wondering why she was not permitted to learn to read--why she was compelled to work for people who gave her few clothes and no wages--why she could not live with her mother and grandmother--in fact why she was a slave--dangerous thoughts for a young woman in bondage--but these and other thoughts kept obtruding until she found resentment against her condition had filled her bosom. The crisis came one day when Matilda, house maid and cook for fourteen persons, was accused by her mistress of an act of which she was not guilty. She denied it and--"Miss Matt slapped me in the face, causing the blood to flow. I was peeling an onion, I threw the onion across the kitchen and with the knife in my hand walked out. She ordered me back. I did not go. She called me all the pet names such as you will not find in the unabridged. I knew I had violated a law which meant the whipping post. I did not know which way to turn. Night
It is interesting to follow her from Binie's cabin until her fetters were broken. When emancipation came she was told that only soldiers' wives were free, but soon she learned that she too was free and when she gave vent to her feelings was told to pack her things and leave. Again she says--"Early that morning I sang, my heart was so full! I had a fine voice for singing. At four o'clock I sang like a mocking bird. I sang the whole house awake. I was in the kitchen getting breakfast. The word came--'All darkies are free.' I never finished that breakfast! I ran 'round and 'round the kitchen, hitting my head against the wall, clapping my hands and crying, 'Freedom! freedom! freedom! Rejoice, freedom has come!' I hurried to Louisville and on January first there was a great celebration. As the parade passed on Broadway near Twelfth street some one turned a wild bull loose. For a time there was
She did not long continue in Louisville as her heart yearned to see her mother who was in Dayton, Ohio. The narrator continued, "I was permitted to care for my mother in her old age--although deprived of her love and affection in my childhood. Well do I remember how we little ones, peeking through the logs of the cabin, saw our poor, little mother ready to be whipped for an act she did not commit. 'Who did it if you didn't do it?' 'I don't know, Massa David,' she cried. His wife Miss Sallie, said, 'If you know about it Liza, tell him.' 'I don't know, Miss Sallie.' She could not stand the sight of that poor tearful mother, but turned to her husband and said, 'Mr. Glass, I did that'."
Mrs. Dunbar resides in the Dayton home from which her poet son fell into "that last dear sleep whose soft embrace is balm." That comfortable, commodious home, shaded by magnificent elms, where he fought his losing fight, watched over and tenderly cared for by the devoted mother--those last days or any of his days and years would have been impossible without that mother who faithfully fulfilled a heavenly mission during the weary months and years of her son's illness. At the open door she greets the visitors with a smile. They come to talk of Paul--her one great theme--then she conducts them to his sanctum sanctorum--"Well, his den," she says--he named it "Loafingholt"--the walls lined with book shelves filled with his own works and choice bits from noted authors--photographs of eminent men and women of both races and dainty bits of bric-a-brac. Here is his desk with pens and ink wells, his caps and boots--his couches piled high with gay sofa pillows, inviting one to "loaf"--a violin made by Captain Stivers of Steele high school--all cherished by this loving mother who delights to show them, these silent remembrances
In her presence one gets the impression that here is a woman of uncommon native ability. At an advanced age she is fluent in conversation which often sparkles with wit. She possesses, to a remarkable degree, the gift of story telling, accompanied by great drollery and mimicry--in fact she dramatizes, as she relates, by act and tone. It is not difficult to trace the poesy of Paul to this mother who, given a chance, would have been as great a woman, in the field of literature, as her son was a man.
Go on and up! Our souls and eye
Shall follow thy continuous rise;
Our ears shall list thy story
From bards who from thy root shall spring
And proudly tune their lyres to sing
Of Ethiopia's glory.