Over the next 30 days, The Birmingham Buff will feature 30 remarkable women who have made their mark on Birmingham’s history.
A Woman You Should Know #7
Did you know a member of the Harlem Renaissance lived in Birmingham – during the height of the renaissance?
Effie Lee Newsome
Effie Lee Newsome was a writer of mostly children’s poems and an illustrator whose work is best known within the pages of “The Crisis,” the NAACP magazine started by W.E.B. Du Bois in 1911 and the “Brownies’ Book,” the first magazine created for black children and youth. Du Bois first published this magazine in 1920.
Newsome began contributing work to “The Crisis” in 1917. In 1920, she married Henry Nesby Newsome, and they moved to Birmingham in 1923 when he was tapped to lead St. John African Methodist Episcopal Church.
The Bronze Legacy
(To a Brown Boy)
‘Tis a noble gift to be brown, all brown
Like the strongest things that make up this earth,
Like the mountains grave and grand,
Even like the very land,
Even like the trunks of trees-
Even oaks to be like these!
God builds His strength in bronze.
To be brown like thrush and lark!
Like the subtle wren so dark!
Nay, the king of beasts wears brown;
Eagles are of this same hue.
I thank God, then, I am brown.
Brown has mighty things to do.
– Effie Lee Newsome
(The poem appeared in “The Crisis” in October 1922.)
Mary Effie Lee was born in Philadelphia on January 19, 1885, to Benjamin Franklin Lee and his wife Mary Elizabeth Ashe Lee. Her father was a bishop in the AME church. Newsome studied at Wilberforce, Oberlin, the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts, and the University of Pennsylvania.
According to the “Concise Oxford Companion to African American Literature,” Effie “decried the dearth of African and African American images in children’s books and dedicated herself to giving youngsters two great gifts: a keen sense of their own inestimable value and an avid appreciation of the natural world.”
Du Bois promoted Effie to editor of the children’s section of “The Crisis” in 1925. Over 100 of her poems appeared in the magazine from 1917 to 1934.
The Newsomes left Birmingham in the late 1920s/early 1930s to live in Wilberforce, Ohio. Effie continued to write; her work was included in anthologies by Langston Hughes and Arna Bontemps in the ’30s. Her volume of poetry, “Gladiola Gardens,” was published in 1940. Effie died in 1979.