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Antislavery Poetry from San Francisco

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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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Sunlight Upon the Landscape and Other Poems

This collection of antislavery poetry, published in 1853 by a pseudonymous 'Daughter of Kentucky,' is probably attributable to Mattie Griffith Browne (1825?-1906). Digitized by the Antislavery Literature Project.

Sunlight upon the Landscape, and Other Poems appeared in 1853 under the pseudonym of ‘A Daughter of Kentucky.’ This nine-poem collection contains a mixture of antislavery poems and romantic nature poems nominally unrelated to slavery.   Attribution of authorship to Mattie Griffith might be made on the grounds of (a) heavy stylistic resemblance to her known poetry in Poems…Now First Collected; (b) topical concern with antislavery; and (c) the pseudonymous author’s self-identification with Kentucky. There were no other known women antislavery poets in Kentucky at this time.   
 
The title-poem, ‘Sunlight Upon the Landscape,’ responded to an 1853 bill introduced into the Ohio legislature that would have banned blacks and mulattos from residing in or purchasing real estate in that state. The author links her response to the bill to sentiment and to the emergence of a woman’s voice: “Thoughts long struggling for utterance, and the embodiment of sentiments inherited from a beloved and lamented mother, have been impelled into existence, by a bill introduced by Mr. Cushing, and now before the Legislature of Ohio.” 
 
The poem is an entrance into civic discourse, one that establishes a voice of moral suasion where an electoral voice and full citizenship are unavailable. Authority emerges not only from the moral project of the poem, but through the honor it delivers to a dead and much-mourned mother whose antislavery sentiments the poem echoes. Over the course of its 287 lines and 21 stanzas, the long poem formulates an argument concerning the moral landscape of slavery in Kentucky. Its purpose, according to the author, lay in cautioning readers against the corruption and violence inherent in this landscape: “If this little Poem (by casting the Sunlight of Truth over the moral landscape) should be a means of awakening some of her countrymen to the dangers surrounding them, the object of the Author will be answered.”
 
For further, see Jose Binongo and Joe Lockard, “Literary Scholarship, Statistical Analysis, and the ‘Daughter of Kentucky’ Antislavery Poetry Pseudonym” (forthcoming). Acknowledgements to Mark Stein (South Texas College of Law) and Paul Finkelman (University of Tulsa College of Law) for assistance.
 
- Joe Lockard