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Born in February 2, 1861 / Died in March 14, 1919 / United States / English


The son of a former slave, Joseph Seamon Cotter was born on a farm in Bardstown, Kentucky, and worked as a laborer from the age of eight. At 22 he enrolled in night school, slowly earning his certification as a grammar school teacher and principal. He taught in several Louisville schools over the next 50 years. He also published nine volumes of poetry, plays, and fiction including A Rhyming (1895), Links of Friendship (1898), A White Song and a Black One (1909), and Collected Poems of Joseph S. Cotter Sr. (1938). Cotter maintained a close friendship with poet Paul Laurence Dunbar, and his own poetry ranges from historical tribute to social satire, engaging racial issues and philosophy in a wide range of formal styles.

Cotter married Maria F. Cox in 1891. Their eldest son, Joseph Jr., published a volume of poetry (The Band of Gideon and Other Lyrics, 1918) before his early death at the age of 23.

Cotter died at home in Louisville in 1949. He is buried in Greenwood Cemetery.