Monday, 21 February 2011

Black History month - Phillis Wheatley (On Being Brought from Africa to America)

In an ideal world, namely a world without sin, there would be no need for a black history month for there would be no need for the injustice of slavery and the plight of blacks to the shores of America to be treated as slaves. Also ‘educational establishments and the national curriculum would fully recognise and appreciate the contribution of black people throughout history. Sadly that is not the case’*.  Black history month grew out of the “Negro History week”, and you can read more about the development of black history month here. Black History Month is held in February in America and October in the UK.

The focus of this blog is on a particular slave artist called Phillis Wheatley. She was a slave poet of colonial America and she became the first black person to publish a book of poetry in English. Benjamin Franklin wrote a positive assessments of her poetry and upon hearing her he asked her if there was any service he could do for her. Phillis Wheatley earned herself an international reputation and her elegy (mournful poem) on George Whitfield was widely reprinted on both sides of the Atlantic. For further reading of her biography click here.

Surveying her vast poems, I have loved her simplicity and complexity and admired the range of expression she conjures to awaken the imagination. Below is a poem that is one of my favourites of hers and I hope that you too may survey her works and be blessed and excited.

On Being Brought from Africa to America

'Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land,
Taught my benighted soul to understand
That there's a God, that there's a Saviour too:
Once I redemption neither sought nor knew.
Some view our sable race with scornful eye,
"Their colour is a diabolic die."
Remember, Christians, Negro's, black as Cain,
May be refin'd, and join th' angelic train.

Even in the iniquity of slavery, Phillis Wheatley had a sovereign view of God in all things. Although her captors had meant her life of slavery for evil God meant it for good, for her to come to a saving faith in Christ Jesus in whose abode this passing torture is but light and momentary.

Phillis Wheatley poems


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