May 26, 2010

OURstory: Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784)

I respect the public schools that are educating my three children. I know that the teachers and curriculum will provide them with a strong basis for their future. However, there are gaps in the education provided by public schools that I'm going to need to fill with my children. I realized that the public schools don't do a good job of teaching the impact of African Americans in US history. The teachers are good at HIS-story ... but, it is up to us to tell OUR-story.

I plan to provide some OURstory blog posts over the coming weeks. They will be here for posterity and I'll use them to fill the gaps in the education of my young Nubian.

For example, I wonder if the public schools mention the name of Phillis Wheatley in their history lessons? Phillis Wheatley was born in Gambia, Africa. She was a was a slave child sold to John and Susanna Wheatley in Boston on July 11, 1761. Her first name was apparently derived from the ship that carried her to America, The Phillis.

Phillis was taught to read and write by her slave-owners and their daughter, Mary. Phillis had a gift for writing poetry -- her first poem was published at the age of twelve. There were a number of benefactors in Phillis' life -- Selina Hastings financed the publication of her book of poetry; former slave Obour Tanner, who made the Middle Passage journey with Phillis, was a lifelong supporter.

I wonder how many villagers are well-versed in Latin? Would you be surprised to learn that Phillis used Latin to write her "Niobe in Distress" publication? It's the truth (or 'veritas', as they say in Latin)!

Phillis' popularity as a poet both in the United States and England ultimately brought her freedom from slavery on October 18, 1773. She even appeared before General Washington in March, 1776 for her poetry and was a strong supporter of independence during the Revolutionary War. She felt slavery to be the issue which separated whites from true heroism: whites can not "hope to find/Deivine acceptance with th' Almighty mind" when "they disgrace/And hold in bondage Afric's blameless race."

Phyllis is remembered for many first time accomplishments from a woman of her day:
  • First African American to publish a book
  • An accomplished African American woman of letters
  • First African American woman to earn a living from her writing
  • First woman writer encouraged and financed by a group of women (Mrs. Wheatley, Mary Wheatly, and Selina Hastings.)
Phillis Wheatley died in Boston, Massachusetts while giving birth.

I understand that the Cincinnati Historical Society is loaning one of Wheatley's 1st edition (1773) books to the America I AM: The African American Imprint exhibit coming to the Cincinnati Museum Center on June 19th. This book will be displayed with Phillis Wheatley's table, which is on loan from the Massachusetts Historical Society in the 'enslavement display'.

What are your insights, thoughts or comments on Phillis WheatleyPersonally, I think that every little Black girl in America should learn about Phillis Wheatley!


Carlton Farmer said...

Very nice post. I hope you enjoy 'America I AM'

Villager said...

Carlton - I appreciate your support. I hope to provide more posts on Black history events or people. I appreciate what you and others have done to bring the America I AM exhibit to Cincinnati. I'm going to do my part to bring awareness about the exhibit to my blog readers...