Paul Laurence Dunbar was writing during the late 1800s, a very turbulent period in U.S. race relations. By that time, slavery had ended, but in the South there was a major backlash against African Americans' social and economic advancement, and lynching was a common form of terrorism. In the North, too, African Americans were denied equal opportunities in employment, education, and housing. Also, In 1896–the year of the poem's publication–antipathy toward blacks was widespread in America. True, the Civil War had liberated blacks from slavery, and federal laws had granted them the right to vote, the right to own property, and so on.