Alice Dunbar-Nelson’s Message
to the 21st Century

ALICE DUNBAR-NELSON MADE A DECLARATION of belonging in U.S. civic and cultural life—for herself and on behalf of others—through her teaching, writing, political involvement, and social activism.

People of diverse races, ethnicities, classes, genders, and sexualities could live freely in the United States that Dunbar-Nelson sought to build. “I am proud of my past; I hold faith in my future!” she wrote in 1916. “I am a Negro! I am an American!” The life and work of Dunbar-Nelson teach the value of staking a claim in political and cultural life, building up your community, and striving to achieve your full potential in the face of challenges. Though much of her work was overlooked during her lifetime, Dunbar-Nelson’s combination of literary excellence and political activism is noteworthy today. 

How do you think Alice Dunbar-Nelson would address the pressing political and social issues of the 21st century? How can you carry on her work? 

Do you or your family have archives of scrapbooks, letters, personal papers, and old books that shed light on your history? How do those objects from the past inform your present? 

Share your thoughts on social media! Tag us @TheRosenbach and use the hashtags #AliceDunbarNelson #IAmAnAmerican.

A large collection of Alice Dunbar-Nelson’s personal papers is open to the public for research and study at the University of Delaware Library in Newark, Delaware. Visit or call 302-831-2229 for more information.