Personal tools
Antislavery Poetry from San Francisco

Running man image from workshop poster

The Pacific Appeal was the leading African American newspaper on the West Coast during the early 1860s.  A newly-published set of eight antislavery poems from the journal's inaugural 1862 volume captures the sense of expectancy within the African American community for the imminent end of US slavery.  These poems include the work of James Madison Bell, a San Francisco plasterer, brickmason, and poet.  Read more... 
Log in

Forgot your password?
New user?
Document Actions

Frederick Douglass (XHTML)

An 1895 memorial poem by African American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar. Digitized by the Antislavery Literature Project.





A hush is over all the teeming lists,

   And there is pause, a breath-space, in the strife;

A spirit brave has passed beyond the mists

   And vapors that obscure the sun of life.

And Ethiopia, with bosom torn,                                     [5]

Laments the passing of her noblest born.


She weeps for him a mother’s burning tears—

   She loved him with a mother’s deepest love

He was her champion thro’ direful years,

   And held her weal all other ends above.                       [10]

When Bondage held her bleeding in the dust,

He raised her up and whispered, “Hope and Trust.”


For her his voice, a fearless clarion, rung

   That broke in warning on the ears of men;

For her, the strong bow of his pow’r he strung                   [15]

   And sent his arrows to the very den

Where grim Oppression held his bloody place

And gloated o’er the mis’ries of a race.


And he was no soft-tongued apologist;

   He spoke straight-forward, fearlessly, uncowed;               [20]

The sunlight of his truth dispelled the mist

   And set in bold relief each dark-hued cloud.

To sin and crime he gave their proper hue,

And hurled at evil what was evil’s due.


Thro’ good and ill report he cleaved his way                           [25]

   Right onward, with his face set towards the heights;

Nor feared to face the foeman’s dread array—

   The flash of scorn, the sting of petty spites.

He dared the lightning in the lightning’s track,

And answered thunder with his thunder, back.                         [30]


When men maligned him, and their torrent wrath

   In furious imprecations o’er him broke,

He kept his counsel, as he kept his path;

   ‘Twas for his race, not for himself, he spoke.

He knew the import of his Master’s call,                                    [35]

And felt himself too mighty to be small.


No miser in the good he held, was he—

   His kindness followed his horizon’s rim.

His heart, his talents, and his hands, were free

   To all who truly needed aught of him.                                     [40]

Where poverty and ignorance were rife,

He gave his bounty, as he gave his life.


The place and cause that first aroused his might,

   Still proved its pow’r until his latest day.

In Freedom’s lists and for the aid of Right                                    [45]

   Still, in the foremost rank, he waged the fray.

Wrong lived,—his occupation was not gone;

He died in action, with his armor on.


We weep for him, but we have touched his hand,

   And felt the magic of his presence nigh;                                     [50]

The current that he sent thro’out the land;

   The kindling spirit of his battle cry.

O’er all that holds us we shall triumph yet,

And place our banner where his hopes were set!


Oh, Douglass!  Thou hast passed beyond the shore,                        [55]

     But still thy voice is ringing o’er the gale!

It tells thy race how high her hopes may soar,

And bids her seek the heights, —nor faint—nor fail.

She will not fail!  She heeds thy stirring cry;

She knows thy guardian spirit will be nigh;                                      [60]

And, rising from beneath the chast’ning rod,

She stretches out her bleeding hands to God!



Paul Laurence Dunbar, “Frederick Douglass” (1895), in In Memoriam: Frederick Douglass, ed. Helen Douglass (Philadelphia: J.C. Yorston & Co., 1897), 168-9.