Joseph S. Cotter Jr: You Don't Have to be Large to Have a Big Voice

Biography by Gary Hsu

Disclaimer: The Internet was full of conflicting sources. Some of this information may be of Joseph S. Cotter or his son, Joseph S. Cotter Jr.

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Joseph Seamon Cotter Jr was born in February 2, 1861 on a farm in Nelson County, Kentucky. In his early life, he took grammar school for a few years, but had to drop out to support his family. He was only able to study up to the third grade with formal education. Some say that he taught himself how to read at the age of 4. He then decided to get a job. With all of his jobs, he had many issues with gaining respect. Although he was a small man, he was powerful in a different way. He gained respect through telling stories. (Clark)

By the time he was twenty two, decided to get enrolled in Louisville. After 10 months, he graduated with diploma. This qualified him to teach. In this point of his life, he realized that he should start teaching the people of his own race. He soon became a public school teacher at Cloverport, Kentucky. He also taught at Western Colored School. Later in his life, he served as a principal of S. Coleridge-Taylor School for about 50 years. (Clark)

Although he was a very dedicated teacher, he gain all of his fame for his story telling and for his dramatic poetry. In 1895, Cotter published his first poetry book, A Rhyming. Some sources claim that a lot of Cotter's original work was destroyed before they are published. In 1898, he published Links of Friendship. Before Cotter continued to teach, he married Maria F. Cox, who was a teacher. They had three kids. After all of his work, he continued to teach and published many plays, books, and poetry in the fight against racial segregation. (Kerlin)

Joseph was constantly fighting the racial segregation. His poetry and stories tend to hint towards the topic. He relates to the Harlem Renaissance because he wanted change. He wanted to integrate blacks and whites. He expressed his feelings and wants to the world. He did this through poetry. In his fight, he gave many African Americans the opportunity for equality by providing education for them. (Clark)

In 1949, Joseph Seamon Cotter died. Although he died, his legacy did not.

"Let us remember that the child is the only force that raises or lowers a community. Society has its ebb and flow in the cradle and the school room. He who steals or kills may be reformed behind prison bars, but he who fails to educate his children libels posterity" Joseph Seamon Cotter

A Prayer

By Joseph S. Cotter

As I lie in bed,
Flat on my back;
There passes across my ceiling
An endless panorama of things—
Quick steps of gay-voiced children,
Adolescence in its wondering silences,
Maid and man on moonlit summer’s eve,
Women in the holy glow of Motherhood,
Old men gazing silently thru the twilight
Into the beyond.
O God, give me words to make my dream-children live.


This poem is about an old man that has a prayer. He dreams about a society where there are happy people everywhere. He hopes to see Women find the gift of motherhood. Everything would seem perfect to him. He asks of God to make it happen.

He uses words like twilight(9), panorama(4), and adolescence(6). These aren't words you hear very often. Cotter probably added them to add the the mysterious feeling of the poem. He could also have been trying to add emphasis to the prayer.

Overall, this poem is about a man that wants equality. He prays for everyone to happily live together in harmony. He extreme wants and desires are expressed through a prayer. This is what many African Americans strive for. They all want a world like this. But sadly, all they can do is pray.


"A Prayer by Joseph S. Cotter, Jr. James Weldon Johnson, ed. 1922. The Book of American Negro Poetry." Great Books Online -- Quotes, Poems, Novels, Classics and hundreds more. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Mar. 2012. <>.

Clark, Rebecca. "KYLIT - A site devoted to Kentucky Writers." English & Theatre - Eastern Kentucky University. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Mar. 2012. <>. \

"Joseph S. Cotter, Jr. Biography ." Louisville Free Public Library. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Mar. 2012. <>.

"Joseph Seamon Cotter | Sherry Chandler." Sherry Chandler | One must not let people think . . . that poetry never enjoys itself . . . W. H. Auden & John Garrett. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Mar. 2012. <>.

Gary Hsu, 4th Period, Mrs Thurnau, 3/18/2012