MANA's BLACK LIT ALIVE! podcast is a special segment of MANA 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 poems by Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (September 24, 1825 - February 22, 1911), 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's short story, "Two Offers" was published in the Anglo-African in 1859, making literary history as the first short story published by a black woman.
(DR C reads Harper's poem, "The Slave Mother," in another post. Click here to listen.)
Listen to DR C's podcast below where she reads the poems, "The Dying Bondman," "A Double Standard," and "Learning to Read."
Follow along with DR C as she recites Harper's poems:
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.
A Double Standard
Do you blame me that I loved him?
If when standing all alone
I cried for bread a careless world
Pressed to my lips a stone.
Do you blame me that I loved him,
That my heart beat glad and free,
When he told me in the sweetest tones
He loved but only me?
Can you blame me that I did not see
Beneath his burning kiss
The serpent's wiles, nor even hear
The deadly adder hiss?
Can you blame me that my heart grew cold
That the tempted, tempter turned;
When he was feted and caressed
And I was coldly spurned?
Would you blame him, when you draw from me
Your dainty robes aside,
If he with gilded baits should claim
Your fairest as his bride?
Would you blame the world if it should press
On him a civic crown;
And see me struggling in the depth
Then harshly press me down?
Crime has no sex and yet today
I wear the brand of shame;
Whilst he amid the gay and proud
Still bears an honored name.
Can you blame me if I've learned to think
Your hate of vice a sham,
When you so coldly crushed me down
And then excused the man?
Would you blame me if tomorrow
The coroner should say,
A wretched girl, outcast, forlorn,
Has thrown her life away?
Yes, blame me for my downward course,
But oh! remember well,
Within your homes you press the hand
That led me down to hell.
I’m glad God’s ways are not our ways,
He does not see as man,
Within His love I know there’s room
For those whom others ban.
I think before His great white throne,
His throne of spotless light,
That whited sepulchres shall wear
The hue of endless night.
That I who fell, and he who sinned,
Shall reap as we have sown;
That each the burden of his loss
Must bear and bear alone.
No golden weights can turn the scale
Of justice in His sight;
And what is wrong in woman’s life
In man’s cannot be right.
Learning to Read
Very soon the Yankee teachers
Came down and set up school;
But, oh! how the Rebs did hate it,—
It was agin’ their rule.
Our masters always tried to hide
Book learning from our eyes;
Knowledge did’nt agree with slavery—
’Twould make us all too wise.
But some of us would try to steal
A little from the book.
And put the words together,
And learn by hook or crook.
I remember Uncle Caldwell,
Who took pot liquor fat
And greased the pages of his book,
And hid it in his hat.
And had his master ever seen
The leaves upon his head,
He’d have thought them greasy papers,
But nothing to be read.
And there was Mr. Turner’s Ben,
Who heard the children spell,
And picked the words right up by heart,
And learned to read ’em well.
Well, the Northern folks kept sending
The Yankee teachers down;
And they stood right up and helped us,
Though Rebs did sneer and frown.
And I longed to read my Bible,
For precious words it said;
But when I begun to learn it,
Folks just shook their heads,
And said there is no use trying,
Oh! Chloe, you’re too late;
But as I was rising sixty,
I had no time to wait.
So I got a pair of glasses,
And straight to work I went,
And never stopped till I could read
The hymns and Testament.
Then I got a little cabin
A place to call my own—
And I felt independent
As the queen upon her throne.
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