Henrietta Ray, a fine Black poet and biographer

Date: 
Thu, 1849-08-30

The birth of Henrietta Ray in 1849 is celebrated on this date. She was a Black poet, teacher, and activist.

Henrietta Cordelia Ray was born in New York City, one of seven children of Charlotte Augusta Burrough and Charles B. Ray, a blacksmith, a Congregational minister, and a leading abolitionist. Young Ray was named after her father's first wife, Henrietta Green Regulus Ray, co-founder of the African Dorcas Association, a support group for the Free African Schools, and first president of the New York Female Literary Society (also known as the Colored Ladies Literary Society).

After graduating from the University of the City of New York in 1891 and the Sauvener School of Languages, she taught for many years in the New York City public school system. Culturally, Ray was well-born, well bred, and enjoyed many advantages accruing to her position in a family where birth, breeding, and culture were valuable. Ray also aspired to make her mark in literature, gaining some major notice as a writer in April 1876. The event was the unveiling of the Freedmen's Monument in Washington, D.C., where Frederick Douglass delivered the keynote address and William E. Matthews read Ray's ode, "Lincoln." The second in a series of important family events, was the graduation of Henrietta's older sister Charlotte, from Howard University in 1872, making her the first Black woman to earn a law degree from that university.

Years later, Henrietta Cordelia Ray received praise for the biography of he, "Sketch of the Life of Rev. Charles B. Ray," published in 1887.

As the Reconstruction era began to close, Ray's poetry had appeared in several periodicals, which encouraged her in her efforts to publish a complete collection. "Sonnets" was published in 1893, and "Poems," which contains "Sonnets," came out in 1910.

About Ray's poetry, Hallie Q. Brown wrote that it "may be likened to the quaint, touching music a shell murmuring of the sea, a faint yet clear note sounding all the pathos and beauty of undying life."

Henrietta Cordelia Ray died in 1917.

Reference:
Schomburg Center for Research in Black culture
515 Malcolm X Boulevard
New York, NY 10037-1801
(212) 491-2200

To be a Writer

Person / name: 

Ray, Henrietta Cordelia

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