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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

In 2016, Charles Barkley marked Black History Month with a daily spotlight on local African-American heroes. 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. Here’s another look.


Frances Ellen Watkins Harper


Frances Ellen Watkins Harper


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.”


Academy of Negro Youth



  • 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



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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