Alfred Islay Walden was born a slave in Randolph County, North Carolina, and gained freedom only after Emancipation. Sold twice as an infant, he was recognized at a young age for his facility with mental math calculations and general acuity. Determined to become a minister, Walden traveled to Washington, D.C., on foot during the winter of 1867 and supported himself by selling poems on the streets and giving lectures in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Walden enrolled at Howard University on scholarship, earning his degree in 1876. Despite his struggles with poverty and near-blindness, he established a mission school for needy African Americans in New Brunswick. Walden went on to become one of the first African American graduates of New Brunswick Theological Seminary. After he was ordained in 1879, Walden returned to North Carolina and led a congregation until his death.

Walden’s most original poetry reflects on personal events and everyday emotions. His verses on love and ordinary occasions are written with frankness and humor. His publications include Walden’s miscellaneous poems, which the author desires to dedicate to the cause of education and humanity (1873) and Walden’s Sacred Poems, with a Sketch of His Life (1877).

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