This week, we are spotlighting one of our databases, which highlights African Americans’ contributions to American literature: African American Poetry!
This comprehensive collection allows you to explore the extraordinary early history of African American poetry. This database includes over 3,000 poems from the 18th and 19th centuries, capturing a wide array of subjects and experiences, and relating them as broadsides, ballads, sonnets, Romantic odes, and historical epics.
And the lives of the poets whose work is featured in African American Poetry were often as riveting as their work. Explore the poetry of Phillis Wheatley, who was abducted from West Africa at a young age, sold as a slave in Boston, and went on to become “one of the major American poets of the Colonial period.” The piercing intelligence, mastery of allusion, and stirring pathos evident in her work led to her becoming the first African-American and the second American woman to publish a volume of poetry.
Or delve into the verses of Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, a staunch abolitionist, suffragist, and one of the first African-American women to publish a novel (Iola Leroy, in 1892). Her political activism is particularly evident in her poetry, which often showcased the horrors of slavery through the lens of motherhood. Her powerful “The Slave Mother, a Tale of the Ohio,” was based on the same real-life events that inspired Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved.
The final stanza of Harper’s moving “Bury Me in a Free Land” reads:
I ask no monument, proud and high
To arrest the gaze of the passers-by;
All that my yearning spirit craves,
Is bury me not in a land of slaves.
African American Poetry also includes the work of Lucy Terry Prince, Jupiter Hammon, James Monroe Whitfield, Paul Laurence Dunbar, and many more early African American poets. Access African American Poetry here and here.