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This week, thanks to a friend and colleague, I rediscovered Frances Ellen Watkins Harper and her poem on a slave auction.  Harper was an African American abolitionist, suffragist, and writer.

One part of her biography speaks to me today. In 1859, the same year of the Weeping Time slave auction of Savannah, Georgia, her moving short story “Two Offers” was published in the Anglo African, an early African American magazine. This made her one of the first Black women in America to publish a short story.

As always, I am struck by the two Americas: the same year that 436 men, women including 30 babies are sold away from the families and community they loved is the year in which a young Black woman is given an extraordinary opportunity to have her work published.

Today I share with you another work by Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, her poem, “The Slave Auction.”

These are the shoulders on which I stand.

The Slave Auction

The sale began—young girls were there,
   Defenseless in their wretchedness,
Whose stifled sobs of deep despair
   Revealed their anguish and distress.
And mothers stood, with streaming eyes,
   And saw their dearest children sold;
Unheeded rose their bitter cries,
   While tyrants bartered them for gold.
And woman, with her love and truth—
   For these in sable forms may dwell—
Gazed on the husband of her youth,
   With anguish none may paint or tell.
And men, whose sole crime was their hue,
   The impress of their Maker’s hand,
And frail and shrinking children too,
   Were gathered in that mournful band.
Ye who have laid your loved to rest,
   And wept above their lifeless clay,
Know not the anguish of that breast,
   Whose loved are rudely torn away.
Ye may not know how desolate
   Are bosoms rudely forced to part,
And how a dull and heavy weight
   Will press the life-drops from the heart.
Source: American Poetry: The Nineteenth Century (The Library of America, 1993)
Picture: Public domain by way of Wikimedia commons
Find Anne C. Bailey's non-fiction book : The Weeping Time: Memory and the Largest Slave Auction in American History on Amazon.

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