Frances Ellen Watkins Harper: Poetry Background

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper: Poetry Background

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper was an African-American poet, fiction writer, journalist, and abolitionist of the nineteenth century. She was born during 1825 to free African-American parents in Baltimore, Maryland and died during 1911 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She attended grade school until the age of thirteen and also did domestic work for a Quaker family. Quakers were typically considered abolitionists at this time, protesting against the evils of American slavery. On the other hand, many Quakers were slave traders during the earlier part of United States history.

Harper was fortunate enough to work with a Quaker family who allowed her access to a vast amount of literature. As a result, she developed a strong interest in reading and writing, which paid off for her later. She increasingly learned the power that words have in shaping people's lives and wanted to use this power to speak against slavery. Harper became a teacher as well as a traveling abolitionist speaker. She managed to help free slaves through the Underground Railroad, in addition to exposing and critiquing atrocities of slavery in abolitionist newspapers. Her persuasive writing earned her the title "mother of African-American journalism," according to the Poetry Foundation.

Her poetry is nothing short of persuasive, too. For example, the poem "Bury Me In A Free Land" expresses Harper's disdain for the hardships of slavery with admirable fierceness and sophistication. She says this disdain is so strong that it would interfere with her ability to rest in her grave (figuratively speaking). This makes one deeply question how terrible the injustice was. Harper wanted that kind of effect on her readers' minds. She was such a talented poet who published many poetry collections. Collections include Poems on Miscellaneous Subjects (1854), Sketches of Southern Life (1872), and several more.

Today, her poetry still stands as a testament to the spiritual strength and cultural perseverance of African-American people.

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