Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemens, 1835-1910), with John Lewis Sitting on Porch Steps, Elmira, New York, USA, circa 1903

Samuel Clemens and African Americans

Born in pro-slavery Missouri, Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) absorbed the racist views of his church, community, and his slave-owning parents. We believe we have created a unique commemoration to Clemens and the unlearning that contributed to his change of heart and his attempts to change America through his writing and his use of satire and humor as he brought to light pressing social issues of his time both in the United States and abroad.

We acknowledge those who helped Clemens unlearn these views, especially his wife Olivia and abolitionist father-in-law, Jervis Langdon, who had the greatest influence; Clemens was also powerfully impacted by memories of the slaves of his childhood and later by Mary Ann Cord's story of separation from her family. You will learn more about many who helped shape his awareness of the true nature of slavery and his post-emancipation efforts. Samuel Clemens later observed, "Civilization began when slavery was abolished."