Today we celebrate Black Poetry Day in honor of Jupiter Hammon, who is believed to be the first African American to publish poetry in the United States. He was born into slavery in Long Island, New York on October 17, 1711.
His poem “An Evening Thought” was first published on Christmas Day at the age of 49. Hammon is considered one of the founders of African-American literature.
In honor of Hammon’s birth, we celebrate the contributions of all African Americans to the world of poetry. Some of the most notable are Langston Hughes, Phyllis Wheatley, Paul Laurence Dunbar and Maya Angelou.
[Langston Hughes recites his poem “I,Too”, often called “I Am America”]
It’s no surprise that many of the early poems by African Americans spoke of overcoming struggles and hardship, often with encouragement and a look to a brighter future.
One of my favorites is by Langston Hughes, “I Too Am America,” brought back to modern attention in The Great Debaters, starring Denzel Washington. [See the scene from the movie below] I’ve posted a video above where you can hear Langston Hughes himself reciting the poem.
by Langston Hughes
written in 1932
I, too, sing America.
I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—
I, too, am America.
How will you celebrate this day?
1. Look up and reflect on the meaning of poems written by African Americans. See a list of a few at http://famouspoetsandpoems.com/poets_african_american.html and at http://www.ehow.com/list_5842906_famous-black-poets-authors.html
2. You don’t have to be an African American to write a poem of encouragement, telling how you overcame something in your life or celebrating freedom. Try your hand at a poem now. Share it in the Comments link above the post.
3. Learn about the Harlem Renaissance, a period after World War I when many Blacks migrated North. During this period, Black poet and writers openly celebrated their history and contributions and opened the doors for many other Black writers to share and be recognized for their work. Learn about this period at http://www.jcu.edu/harlem/index.htm