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The poetry of Frances Harper

Click the links below to read poems by the late great Frances Harper.

Charles Barkley's
Black History Month All Stars

All Star #4: Frances Ellen Watkins Harper

I speak at a lot of schools across the country, and I’ve encountered a trend that drives me freakin’ nuts. I always ask students the following question:

“How many of you want to be a professional athlete or a rapper?”

At inner-city, mostly African American schools, nearly every hand shoots up. When I ask the same question in a white suburban school, maybe 10 percent of hands are raised. I speak to a lot of schools, and this happens without fail.

I tell black kids all the time, “You ain’t gonna be me.” Even if you’re any good on the court, the odds are stacked against you. But I can tell from the blank way they look back at me: They’re putting all their eggs in this totally unlikely basket. But I get why. Young black kids get from the media an unrealistic picture of African American success. Athletes and rappers, with Denzel and Oprah thrown in.

So to mark Black History Month here at The Citizen, I’m going to introduce you every day to my Philadelphia Black History Month All-Stars. Many of them didn’t make it into the history books or even the newspapers of their time. But their stories are inspiring and worth knowing.

04

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper

Writer

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper

Writer

September 24, 1825 - February 22, 1911

Harper, a writer, abolitionist and suffragette, was born free in Baltimore in 1825, and spent most of her adult life in Philadelphia, where she was active with the Underground Railroad. She published over 11 books of poetry and fiction, including Iola Leroy, one of the first novels published by an African American. Her writings primarily focused on social issues: Education for women, miscegenation as a crime, temperance and social responsibility. “The true aim of female education should be, not a development of one or two,” Harper said, “but all the faculties of the human soul, because no perfect womanhood is developed by imperfect culture.”

EDUCATION:

Academy of Negro Youth

 

ACCOMPLISHMENTS:

  • Published her first book of poetry at age 20
  • Helped escaped slaves make their way to Canada on the Underground Railroad
  • Refused to give up her trolley seat 100 years before Rosa Parks
  • Led the “colored” section of the Philadelphia Women’s Christian Temperance Union

 

FINAL WORD:

From “Bury Me In A Free Land,” Harper’s most famous poem:

“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.”

Home page image: A Message to the Child: The Hero May be Found © 2004. City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program / John Lewis. 3403 N. 17th Street. Photo by Jack Ramsdale

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