Frances Ellen Watkins Harper: Bury Me in a Free Land
Make me a grave where'er you will,
In a lowly plain, or a lofty hill;
Make it among earth's humblest graves,
But not in a land where men are slaves.
I could not rest if around my grave
I heard the steps of a trembling slave;
His shadow above my silent tomb
Would make it a place of fearful gloom.
I could not rest if I heard the tread
Of a coffle gang to the shambles led,
And the mother's shriek of wild despair
Rise like a curse on the trembling air.
I could not sleep if I saw the lash
Drinking her blood at each fearful gash,
And I saw her babes torn from her breast,
Like trembling doves from their parent nest.
I'd shudder and start if I heard the bay
Of bloodhounds seizing their human prey,
And I heard the captive plead in vain
As they bound afresh his galling chain.
If I saw young girls from their mother's arms
Bartered and sold for their youthful charms,
My eye would flash with a mournful flame,
My death-paled cheek grow red with shame.
I would sleep, dear friends, where bloated might
Can rob no man of his dearest right;
My rest shall be calm in any grave
Where none can call his brother a slave.
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.
“You white women speak here of rights. I speak of wrongs.”
Frances Ellen Watkins Harper was born in 1825 in Baltimore, Maryland, and raised by her aunt and uncle. A poet, novelist, and journalist, she was also a prominent abolitionist and temperance and women’s suffrage activist. She traveled to multiple states to lecture and give speeches about these issues.
In May 1866, she delivered the speech, “We Are All Bound Up Together” at the National Women’s Rights Convention in New York, sharing the stage with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. “You white women speak here of rights,” she said. “I speak of wrongs.”
With Margaret Murray Washington, the wife of Booker T. Washington, Harriet Tubman, and other prominent African American women, she helped found the National Association of Colored Women and served as its vice president in 1897.
She authored numerous books, including the poetry collections Forest Leaves (1845) and Poems on Miscellaneous Subjects (1854), the novel Iola Leroy, or Shadows Uplifted (1892), and several short stories. Before marrying Fenton Harper, a widower, with whom she had a daughter, she worked at Union Seminary in Ohio, where she taught sewing.
She died in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on February 22, 1911.