Author: Brandon Goins
National Black Poetry Day is an annual celebration and recognition of past and present black poets. It is celebrated in October to honor the birth date of the first published black poet in the United States, Jupiter Hammon, who was born into slavery in New York on October 17, 1711. Hammond’s first poem “An Evening Thought: Salvation by Christ, with Penitential Cries” was published in 1760. As an enslaved person, the byline of the work included the name of his master. It was published stating that the work was “composed by Jupiter Hammon, a Negro belonging to Mr. Lloyd, of Queen’s Village, on Long-Island, the 25th of December, 1760”. It is important to recognize Jupiter Hammond today as a pioneer of black art. The obstacles faced by those who came before must be recognized as well as their achievements.
North Carolina has its own rich history of black artists, novelists, musicians, painters, and poets. Every day is a good day to celebrate Black art. On National Black Poetry Day we are spoiled for choice. From literary icon Maya Angelou to the history-making Jaki Shelton Green who is the first African American and third woman to be appointed as the North Carolina Poet Laureate, our state is home to heroes of the craft.
Today we highlight another of North Carolina’s heroes you may not know about. Anna Pauline (Pauli) Murray was an activist, Episcopal priest, lawyer, and writer among many other things. American heroes Thurgood Marshall, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Martin Luther King heralded this Durham-raised trailblazer as an inspiration. In 1970 they published Dark Testament: and Other Poems. The poem below, “To the Oppressors,” is published in this collection. It is a true testament to the art that can come from speaking to our pain. Poetry has a beautiful way of speaking across boundaries of time, race, gender, sexuality, religion, or nationality. The struggle for freedom and self-actualization is something that everyone can share.
Happy Black Poetry Day.
“To the Oppressors”
by Pauli Murray
From Dark Testament: and Other Poems
Now you are strong
And we are but grapes aching with ripeness.
Squeeze from us all the brave life
Contained in these full skins.
But ours is a subtle strength
Potent with centuries of yearning,
Of being kegged and shut away
In dark forgotten places.
We shall endure
To steal your senses
In that lonely twilight
Of your winter’s grief.
For more information on Pauli Murray and their legacy visit the Pauli Murray Center for History and Social Justice in Durham.