A Separate Flame

Western Branch: The First African American Public Library

Joseph Seamon Cotter Sr.

Joseph Seamon Cotter Sr.
Cabinet card of Joseph Seamon Cotter Sr.

Joseph Seamon Cotter Sr. (February 2, 1861 – March 14, 1949) was a poet, writer, playwright, and community leader raised in Louisville, Kentucky (but born in Nelson County, Kentucky). Cotter was one of the earliest African-American playwrights to be published. He was known as "Kentucky's first Negro poet with real creative ability."[1] Cotter was born at the start of the American Civil War, and was raised in poverty with no formal education until the age of 22. He later became an educator and an advocate of black education.[2]

Cotter grew up in a family of mixed racial heritage. His father, Michael J. Cotter, was a white man of Scots-Irish ancestry, and his mother, Martha Vaughn, was a freeborn black woman of mixed heritage (one of several children born to an African slave mother and an English-Cherokee father).

On July 22, 1891, Cotter married Maria F. Cox, a fellow teacher, with whom he had four children: Leonidas, Florence, Olivia, and Joseph Seamon Cotter Jr (a distinguished poet-playwright in his own merit).