A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature
Take sackcloth of the darkest dye,
And shroud the pulpits round!
Servants of Him that cannot lie,
Sit mourning on the ground.
Let holy horror blanch each cheek,
Pale every brow with fears;
And rocks and stones, if ye could speak,
Ye well might melt to tears!
Let sorrow breathe in every tone,
In every strain ye raise;
Insult not God’s majestic throne
With th’ mockery of praise.
A “reverend” man, whose light should be
The guide of age and youth,
Brings to the shrine of Slavery
The sacrifice of truth!
For the direst wrong by man imposed,
Since Sodom’s fearful cry,
The word of life has been unclos’d,
To give your God the lie.
Oh! When ye pray for heathen lands,
And plead for their dark shores,
Remember Slavery’s cruel hands
Make heathens at your doors!
Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (1825 – 1911) was an African-American abolitionist, suffragist, poet and author. Born free in Baltimore, Maryland, she had a long and prolific career, publishing her first book of poetry at the age of 20 and her widely praised novel Iola Leroy at the age of 67. In 1851 after teaching for two years in Ohio and Pennsylvania, she embarked on a career as a traveling speaker on the abolitionist circuit. She helped slaves escape through the Underground Railroad and wrote frequently for anti-slavery newspapers, earning her a reputation as the mother of African American journalism. Poems on Miscellaneous Subjects (1854) became her biggest commercial success. She published Sketches of Southern Life in 1872. It detailed her experience touring the South and meeting newly freed Black people. In these poems she described the harsh living conditions of many.
She married Fenton Harper in 1860. He brought to the marriage three children of his own, and together they had a daughter. When her husband died in 1864, Harper continued to support her family though speaking engagements. During Reconstruction she was an activist for civil rights, women’s rights, and educational opportunities for all. She was superintendent of the Colored Section of the Philadelphia and Pennsylvania Women’s Christian Temperance Union, co-founder and vice president of the National Association of Colored Women, and a member of the American Women’s Suffrage Association. Harper was also the director of the American Association of Colored Youth.
She was active in both African Methodist Episcopalian and Unitarian Universalist churches, and was buried in Philadelphia’s Eden Cemetery, next to her daughter Mary.
Sources: The Poetry Foundation and Wikipedia.