St. Louis: St. Louis Argus, 1936. Rebound in maroon library cloth, with original front wrapper panel adhered to front board. Library labels affixed to the front endpaper and foot of spine; stamps on the front board and title page. Pagination complete but out of order, likely owing to confusion during the rebinding process. Good. Item #4811
A collection of over 400 poems by African American poet and preacher Thomas Atkins, published by the St. Louis Argus, a historically Black newspaper. Although little is known about Atkins' upbringing and early years, contemporary sources show he was born into poverty in Monticello, Arkansas, around 1890. After World War I he attended North Little Rock's Shorter College, and moved to St. Louis from southern Arkansas around 1921. He lived for several years at the Pine Street YMCA, an important hub of Black life in the city, and later records find him at various boarding houses in Grand Center. His draft card from World War II notes his occupation as "Evangelist and writes poetry," echoed in his 1940 census record, with total income and weeks worked during the year noted as zero. Finally, his death certificate, dated 1955, shows him living on Cook Avenue, with a final resting place at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery.
Atkins' poetry addresses a variety of topics -- age, education, music, urban and rural life, mortality, and more -- with a focus on spirituality and the pastoral. The poems make occasional references to key figures in St. Louis' African American community of the period, including the Reverend D.L. Langford of the Mt. Olive Baptist Church and Mrs. L.A. Head of the Pine Street YMCA. Of particular note is Atkins' unusual, stream-of-consciousness introduction, spanning nine pages and providing insight into his life and community in St. Louis. "The Eagle" appears to have been Atkins' only published work. Rare, with OCLC locating three copies -- Howard University, University of Chicago, and the Missouri History Museum.