Black History Month: To a Dark Girl


Black History Month: Gwendolyn  B. Bennett—To A Dark Girl

I love you for your brownness,
And the rounded darkness of your breast,
I love you for the breaking sadness in your voice
And shadows where your wayward eyelids rest.

Something of old forgotten queens
Lurks in the lithe abandon of your walk
And something of the shackled slave
Sobs in the rhythm of your talk.

Oh, little brown girl, born for sorrow’s mate,
Keep all you have of queenliness,
Forgetting that you once were slave,
And let your full lips laugh at Fate!

In honor of Black History Month, we will post an inspirational cultural item each day.


Black History Month: Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing


Black History Month: James Weldon Johnson—Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing also known as The Black National Anthem

Lift every voice and sing,
Till earth and Heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise,
High as the list’ning skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on till victory is won.

Stony the road we trod,
Bitter the chast’ning rod,
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
Yet with a steady beat,
Have not our weary feet,
Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered,
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered;
Out from the gloomy past,
Till now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.

God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
Thou Who hast brought us thus far on the way;
Thou Who hast by Thy might,
Led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee.
Lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee.
Shadowed beneath Thy hand,
May we forever stand,
True to our God,
True to our native land.

In honor of Black History Month, we will post an inspirational cultural item each day.


Black History Month: Eliza Harris


Black History Month: Frances Harper—Eliza Harris

You may recall the scene from Uncle Tom’s Cabin where Eliza Harris runs across the Ohio River (parts of it covered in ice), risking drowning to secure freedom for herself and her son. The scene, and Frances Harper’s poem which we have excerpted below are based on the story of an actual incident. The full text can be found at Poetry Foundation.

Like a fawn from the arrow, startled and wild,Resilience in Resistance
A woman swept by us, bearing child;
In her eye was the night of a settled despair,
And her brow was o’ershaded with anguish and care.

She was nearing the river—in reaching the brink,
She heeded no danger, she paused not to think!
For she is a mother—hey child is a stave—
And she’ll give him his freedom, or find him a grave!

It was a vision to haunt us, that innocent faces—
So pale in its aspect, so fair in its grace;
As the tramp of the horse and the bay of the hound,
With the fetters that gall, were trailing the ground!

She was nerv’d by despair, and strengthened by woe,
As she leap’d o’er the chasms that yawn’d from below;
Death howl’d in the tempest, and rav’d in the blast,
But she heard not the sound till the danger was past…

In honor of Black History Month, we will post an inspirational cultural item each day.


Thirty is the old sixty

Resilient Tanner

Final Resting Place of Amos and Vilot Fortune

Today we break from African-American firsts to tell the story of a man whose life was exceptional because of his own resilience. Amos Fortune was likely born in 1710 in Africa’s Gold Coast (now Ghana). In an era when the average person who survived their teenage years lived to be 70, Fortune survived until 91 in spite of the hardships and deprivations of slavery.

Amos was probably brought to America aboard the White Falcon, a slaver that put into port at Boston in July, 1725. There is no other record of him until 1752 at which point he belonged to Ichabod Richardson, a tanner in Woburn, MA (just north of Boston). He was likely first bought by a bookbinder named Fortune. The assumption is made because of the conventions followed in naming slaves and the fact that Fortune managed to learn to read, write and do arithmetic despite being enslaved. His skill as a binder is attested to by the fact he was commissioned to bind the books of the Jaffrey Social Library. That said, there is always the possibility that he simply pre-empted Frederick Douglass’ ingenuity. Richardson promised Fortune his freedom a number of times but died leaving an unsigned will— the desire to preserve his income from Fortune’s labor seems to have overridden his conscience. After Richardson’s death in 1769, Fortune would buy his freedom. He was 60 years old.

It is at that ripe old age that Fortune began to construct his own life. In just five years, he earned enough to buy a half-acre of land in Woburn on which he built a house. He also maintained the trust of African Americans, slave and free, and acted as an agent for several of them. He bought the freedom of a number of other slaves including two women whom he married (the first died soon after being freed) and a young child that he adopted.

In 1781, he moved to Jaffrey, New Hampshire with his second wife, Vilot (the his is literal, he was legally her owner). They set up a tannery, raised a barn and built another house on a 25 acre plot that they bought alongside a road now known as Amos Fortune Road. Fortune’s tannery drew business from as far as eastern MA. In time, despite having been warned out by Jaffrey because they presumed he would have become a charge on the town, Fortune would become the town’s first benefactor and a founder of the Social Library in Jaffrey. The bindings he did for the library remain intact over 200 years later.

His gravestone reads:
Sacred to the memory of Amos Fortune, who was born free in Africa, a slave in America, he purchased liberty, professed Christianity, lived reputably, and died hopefully. Nov. 17, 1801, AET. 91.
Vilot’s reads:
Sacred to the memory of Violate,[sic] by sale the slave of Amos Fortune, by marriage his wife, by her fidelity his friend and solace, she dies is widow Sept 13, 1802, AET. 73

In 1955, Governor Lane Dwinell (NY) would declare February 20th Amos Fortune Day. We will post the text of that declaration next Wednesday.

In honor of Black History Month, our regular Tuesday and Friday posts will highlight black entrepreneurs who have displayed exemplary success and resilience.


Black History Month: Self-Reliance


Black History Month: James M. Whitfield—Self-Reliance

One is tempted to assume that there must be some relationship between Whitfield’s poem and Emerson’s more famous essay. We’re not experts, but are inclined to be skeptical. I suspect some of our readers will have a different take. If nothing else, the inspiration for those seeking to build their resilience is clear. The full text of the poem can be found at Classroom Electric.

I love the man whose lofty mind
   On God and its own strength relies;
Who seeks the welfare of his kind,
   And dare be honest though he dies;
Who cares not for the world’s applause,
   But, to his own fixed purpose true,
The path which God and nature’s laws
   Point out, doth earnestly pursue.
When adverse clouds around him lower,
   And stern oppression bars his way,
When friends desert in trial’s hour,
   And hope sheds but a feeble ray;...

Armed with the same sustaining power, 
Against adversity’s dark hour, 
And from the deep deceitful guile 
Which lurks in pleasure’s hollow smile, 
Or from the false and fitful beam 
   That marks ambition’s meteor fire, 
Or from that dark and lurid gleam 
   Revealing passion’s deadly ire. 
His steadfast soul fearing no harm, 
   But trusting in the aid of Heaven, 
And wielding, with unfaltering arm, 
   The utmost power which God has given—— 
Conscious that the Almighty power 
   Will nerve the faithful soul with might, 
Whatever storms may round him lower, 
   Strikes boldly for the true and right.

In honor of Black History Month, we will post an inspirational cultural item each day.


Black History Month: Frederick Douglass—A Narrative of a Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave

Resilient AbolitionistFrederick Douglass’ Narrative of a Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave is easily among the most renown of American slave narratives. Within the Narrative the most remember scene (certainly among our favorite) is that detailing the process by which he learned to read and write. It is a tale of him overcoming the degradation of slavery, the deprivation of his circumstance and his personal resilience in finding a way to access what he intuitively knew would be a valuable skill.

We have excerpted a few segments below. The lessons are clear:

  • Recognize when one is falling into despair and resist it with action
  • Use even the slimmest of openings to overcome even the most toughest challenges
  • Look for creative ways to work around old obstacles
  • After developing a plan, be persistent in its execution

Shadow of Despair

I often found myself regretting my own existence, and wishing myself dead; and but for the hope of being free, I have no doubt but that I should have killed myself, or done something for which I should have been killed.

Using the slimmest of openings

From this time I was most narrowly watched. If I was in a separate room any considerable length of time, I was sure to be suspected of having a book, and was at once called to give an account of myself. All this, however, was too late. The first step had been taken. Mistress, in teaching me the alphabet, had given me the inch, and no precaution could prevent me from taking the ell.

Creative Workarounds

I immediately commenced copying them, and in a short time was able to make the four letters named. After that, when I met with any boy who I knew could write, I would tell him I could write as well as he. The next word would be, “I don’t believe you. Let me see you try it.” I would then make the letters which I had been so fortunate as to learn, and ask him to beat that. In this way I got a good many lessons in writing, which it is quite possible I should never have gotten in any other way.


I used to spend the time in writing in the spaces left in Master Thomas’s copy-book, copying what he had written. I continued to do this until I could write a hand very similar to that of Master Thomas. Thus, after a long, tedious effort for years, I finally succeeded in learning how to write.

The full text of Frederick Douglass Narrative, Chapter 7 can be found at the University of Virginia’s Electronic Text Center

In honor of Black History Month, we will post an inspirational cultural item each day.