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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... 
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"Then and Now" (XHTML)

A long poem on the history of the antislavery movement, published in 1900 by African American abolitionist, social activist and writer Frances Ellen Watkins Harper. Digitized by the Antislavery Literature Project.

 

Source: Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Poems (Philadelphia: George S. Ferguson Co., 1900).
 
 
Then and Now
 
 
[page 75]
 
"Build me a nation," said the Lord.
The distant nations heard the word,
"Build me a nation true and strong,
Bar out the old world's hate and wrong;"
For men had traced with blood and tears                                                           [5]
The trail of weary wasting years,
And torn and bleeding martyrs trod
Through fire and torture up to God.

While in the hollow of his hand
God hid the secret of our land,                                                                              [10]
Men warred against their fiercest foes,
And kingdoms fell and empires rose,
Till, weary of the old world strife,
Men sought for broader, freer life,
And plunged into the ocean's foam                                                                      [15]
To find another, better home.

And, like a vision fair and bright,
The new world broke upon their sight.
Men grasped the prize, grew proud and strong,
And cursed the land with crime and wrong.                                                     [20]
The Indian stood despoiled of lands,
The Negro bound with servile hands,
Oppressed through weary years of toil.
His blood and tears bedewed the soil.
 
[page 76]

Then God arose in dreadful wrath,                                                                       [25]
And judgment streamed around his path;
His hand the captive's fetters broke,
His lightnings shattered every yoke.
As Israel through the Red sea trod,
Led by the mighty hand of God,                                                                             [30]
They passed to freedom through a flood,
Whose every wave and surge was blood.

And slavery, with its crime and shame,
Went down in wrath and blood and flame.
The land was billowed o'er with graves                                                               [35]
Where men had lived and died as slaves.
Four and thirty years---what change since then!
Beings once chattles now are men;
Over the gloom of slavery's night,
Has flashed the dawn of freedom's light.                                                            [40]

To-day no mother with anguish wild
Kneels and implores that her darling child
Shall not be torn from her bleeding heart,
With its quivering tendrils rent apart.
The father may sooth his child to sleep,                                                             [45]
And watch his slumbers calm and deep.
No tyrant's tread will disturb his rest
Where freedom dwells as a welcome guest.
 
[page 77]

His walls may be bare of pictured grace,
His fireside the lowliest place;                                                                                [50]
But the wife and children sheltered there
Are his to defend and guard with care.
Where haughty tyrants once bore rule
Are ballot-box and public school.
The old slave-pen of former days                                                                          [55]
Gives place to fanes of prayer and praise.

To-night we would bring our meed of praise
To noble friends of darker days;
The men and women crowned with light,
The true and tried in our gloomy night.                                                             [60]
To Lundy, whose heart was early stirred
To speak for freedom an earnest word;
To Garrison, valiant, true and strong,
Whose face was as flight against our wrong.

And Phillips, the peerless, grand and brave,                                                     [65]
A tower of strength to the outcast slave.
Earth has no marble too pure and white
To enroll his name in golden light.
Our Douglass, too, with his broken chain,
Who plead our cause with his broken chain,                                                      [70]
And helped to hurl from his bloody seat
The curse that writhed and died at his feet.
 
[page 78]

And Governor Andrew, who, looking back,
Saw none he despised, though poor and black;
And Harriet Beecher, whose glowing pen                                                          [75]
Corroded the chains of fettered men.
To-night with greenest laurels we'll crown
North Elba's grave where sleeps John Brown,
Who made the gallows an altar high,
And showed how a brave old man could die.                                                   [80]

And Lincoln, our martyred President.
Who returned to his God with chains he had rent.
And Sumner, amid death's icy chill,
Leaving to Hoar his Civil Rights Bill.
And let us remember old underground,                                                             [85]
With all her passengers northward bound,
The train that ran till it ceased to pay,
With all her dividends given away.

Nor let it be said that we have forgot
The women who stood with Lucretia Mott;                                                       [90]
Nor her who to the world was known
By the simple name of Lucy Stone.
A tribute unto a host of others
Who knew that men though black were brothers,
Who battered against our nation's sin,                                                                [95]
Whose graves are thick whose rank are thin.
 
[page 79]
 
Oh, people chastened in the fire,
To nobler, grander things aspire;
In the new era of your life,
Bring love for hate, and peace for strife;                                                            [100]
Upon your hearts this vow record
That ye will build unto the Lord
A nobler future, true and grand,
To strengthen, crown and bless the land.

A higher freedom ye may gain                                                                             [105]
Than that which comes from a riven chain;
Freedom your native land to bless,
With peace, and love and righteousness,
As dreams that are past, a tale all told,
Are the days when men were bought and sold;                                               [110]
Now God be praised from sea to sea,
Our flag floats o'er a country free.