MANA's BLACK LIT ALIVE! Featuring Frederick Douglass and Frances Ellen Watkins Harper—Segment #7

 MANA's BLACK LIT ALIVE! is a special segment of MANA, which will have podcasts on literature produced by African American writers in the 18th century and beyond. 

Through literature, the writers, whether free or slaves, realized their identity and expressed their individuality at a time when African Americans were only viewed as mere property. 

In this podcast, MANA’s DR C reads excerpts from Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave. Douglass (c. February 1818 - February 20, 1895) was an abolitionist, orator, writer, and statesman. He escaped from slavery in Maryland and later became a national leader of the abolitionist movement in Massachusetts and New York. 

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (September 24, 1825 - February 22, 1911) was one of the first African American women to be published in the United States. Born free in Baltimore, Maryland, she became an abolitionist, suffragist, teacher, public speaker, poet, and writer. Harper made literary history when her short story, "Two Offers" was published in the Anglo-African in 1859. This was the first short story published by a black woman. 

Listen to DR C's podcast where she reads excerpts from Douglass' narrative and Harper's poem, "The Slave Auction" and "The Dying Bondman":

Follow along with DR C as she recites excerpts from Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, and Harper's poems:

"My mother was named Harriet Bailey. She was the daughter of Isaac and Betsey Bailey, both colored, and quite dark. My mother was of a darker complexion than either my grandmother or grandfather. My father was a white man. He was admitted to be such by all I ever heard speak of my parentage. The opinion was also whispered that my master was my father; but of the correctness of this opinion, I know nothing; the means of knowing was withheld from me. 

Photo courtesy of George
Kendall Warren/ Public domain
My mother and I were separated when I was but an infant—before I knew her as my mother. It is a common custom, in the part of Maryland from which I ran away, to part children from their mothers at a very early age. Frequently, before the child has reached its twelfth month, its mother is taken from it, and hired out on some farm a considerable distance off, and the child is placed under the care of an old woman, too old for field labor. For what this separation is done, I do not know, unless it be to hinder the development of the child's affection toward its mother, and to blunt and destroy the natural affection of the mother for the child. This is the inevitable result.

I never saw my mother, to know her as such, more than four or five times in my life; and each of these times was very short in duration, and at night. She was hired by a Mr. Stewart, who lived about twelve She made her journeys to see me in the night, travelling the whole distance on foot, after the performance of her day's work. 

She was a field hand, and a whipping is the penalty of not being in the field at sunrise, unless a slave has special permission from his or her master to the contrary--a permission which they seldom get, and one that gives to him that gives it the proud name of being a kind master. I do not recollect of ever seeing my mother by the light of day. She was with me in the night. She would lie down with me, and get me to sleep, but long before I waked she was gone. Very little communication ever took place between us. 

Death soon ended what little we could have while she lived, and with it her hardships and suffering. She died when I was about seven years old, on one of my master's farms, near Lee's Mill. I was not allowed to be present during her illness, at her death, or burial. She was gone long before I knew anything about it. Never having enjoyed, to any considerable extent, her soothing presence, her tender and watchful care, I received the tidings of her death with much the same emotions I should have probably felt at the death of a stranger...

..His (Mr. Gore, the overseer) savage barbarity was equalled only by the consummate coolness with which he committed the grossest and most savage deeds upon the slaves under his charge. Mr. Gore once undertook to whip one of Colonel Lloyd's slaves, by the name of Demby. He had given Demby but few stripes, when, to get rid of the scourging, he ran and plunged himself into a creek, and stood there at the depth of his shoulders, refusing to come out.

Mr. Gore told him that he would give him three calls, and that, if he did not come out at the third call, he would shoot him. The first call was given. Demby made no response, but stood his ground. The second and third calls were given with the same result. Mr. Gore then, without consultation or deliberation with any one, not even giving Demby an additional call, raised his musket to his face, taking deadly aim at his standing victim, and in an instant poor Demby was no more. His mangled body sank out of sight, and blood and brains marked the water where he had stood."

Poems by Frances Ellen Watkins Harper: 

The Slave Auction 

The sale began—young girls were there,

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper

Defenseless in their wretchedness,

Whose stifled sobs of deep despair

Revealed their anguish and distress.

And mothers stood, with streaming eyes,

And saw their dearest children sold;

Unheeded rose their bitter cries,

While tyrants bartered them for gold. 

And woman, with her love and truth—

For these in sable forms may dwell—

Gazed on the husband of her youth,

With anguish, none may paint or tell. 

And men, whose sole crime was their hue,

The impress of their Make's hand,

And frail and shrinking children too,

Were gathered in that mournful band.

Ye who have laid your loved to rest,

And wept above their lifeless clay,

Know not the anguish of that breast,

Whose loved are rudely torn away. 

Ye may not know how desolate

Are bosoms rudely forced to part, 

And how a dull and heavy weight

Will press the life-drops from the heart. 

The Dying Bondman

Life was trembling, faintly trembling

On the bondman's latest breath,

And he felt the chilling pressure

Of the cold, hard hand of Death.

He had been an Afric chieftain,

Worn his manhood as a crown;

But upon the field of battle

Had been fiercely stricken down.

He had longed to gain his freedom.

Waited, watched and hoped in vain,

Till his life was slowly ebbing—

Almost broken was his chain. 

By his bedside stood the master,

Gazing on the dying one,

Knowing by the dull grey shadows

That life's sands were almost run.

"Master," said the dying bondman,

"Home and friends I soon shall see;

But before I reach my country,

Master write that I am free;

"For the spirits of my fathers

Would shrink back from me in pride,

If I told them at our greeting

I a slave had lived and died;

"Give to me the precious token,

That my kindred dead may see—

Master! write it, write it quickly!

Master! write that I am free!"

At his earnest plea the master

Wrote for him the glad release,

O'er his wan and wasted features

Flitted one sweet smile of peace.

Eagerly he grasped the writing;

"I am free!" at last he said.

Backward fell upon the pillow,

He was free among the dead.

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