On October 17th we celebrated 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 and while growing up on a plantation, learned to read and write.
His first poem “An Evening Thought. Salvation by Christ with Penitential Crienes” was published on Christmas Day when Hammon was 49 years old. He is considered one of the founders of African American literature.
In honor of Hammon’s birth, Black Poetry Day was established in 1985 to 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, Maya Angelou, and Alice Walker.
Listen to this rare audio of Langston Hughes (1902 – 1967) reciting his poem “I,Too”, often called “I Am America”.
It’s no surprise that many of the early poems by African Americans with stinging memories of slavery and discrimination still fresh in their minds, spoke of overcoming struggles and hardship, often with encouragement and a look to a brighter future.
Langston Hughes “I Too Am America” was brought back to modern attention in The Great Debaters, starring Denzel Washington. [See the scene from the movie below]
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. Try your hand at a poem now. You don’t have to be an African American to write a poem of encouragement, expressing gratitude, telling how you overcame something in your life or celebrating freedom. 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
4. Visit the National Museum African American Museum and Culture collection of objects and works related to African American poets at s.si.edu/2eKKmIA
5. Look up and reflect on how other disenfranchised Americans wrote poetry to encourage themselves, and celebrate their freedom.
Tell us in Speak Your Mind below how you celebrated Black Poetry Day.