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Black News and News Makers in History: Jupiter Hammon

Black News and News Makers in History recognizes Jupiter Hammon this week in Black history.Jupiter Hammon, Calvinist poet and first published Black writer in America.

Jupiter Hammon was born on October 17, 1711 on Long Island, NY. He was a self-educated Black Calvinist poet and the first published black writer in America, a poem appearing in print in 1760. He is considered one of the founders of African American literature.

Hammon served several generations of the Lloyd family on Long Island, New York. He had been a slave his entire life, allowed to attend school, his formal education influencing his development as a poet. Like his masters, Hammon was a devout Christian and was influenced by the religious revivals taking place in 18th century New England.

His writing reflects his deep spirituality, and his first published poem, "An Evening Thought. Salvation by Christ with Penitential Cries," was written on Christmas Day, 1760, published as a broadside in early 1761; making it the first piece of literature published in the United States by a person of African descent.

His second extant piece of poetry, published 17 years after the first, honors Phyillis Wheatley. Hammon never mentions himself in the poem, but it appears that in choosing Wheatley as a subject, he was acknowledging their common bond.

He also wrote an 'Address to the Negroes of the State of New York' before their African Society on September 24, 1786. In this speech, at the age of seventy-six, after a lifetime of slavery, Hammon expressed his opinions on slavery most clearly. The speech drew heavily on Christian motifs and theology. For example, Hammon said that Black people should maintain their high moral standards precisely because being slaves on Earth had already secured their place in heaven. Hammon's speech also promoted the idea of a gradual emancipation was a way of ending slavery. It is thought that Hammon stated this plan because he knew that slavery was so entrenched in American society that an immediate emancipation of all slaves would be more difficult to achieve. His speech contained a famous quote of his, "If we ever get to Heaven, we shall find nobody to reproach us for being black or being slaves." As an individual, he claimed he did "not wish to be free," he did add that he believed slavery was unjust, and would be "glad if others, especially the young Negroes, were free." Hammon apparently remained a slave until his death in 1806. The speech was later reprinted by several groups opposed to slavery.

Because of Hammon's famous speech and his poetry, he is often recognized as a founder of the African- American literary tradition.

The birth of Black Poetry Day (some say) started as an anniversary of the first published African-American poet, Jupiter Hammon. With the birth of the Harlem Renaissance, prose, and spoken word, Black Poetry has strived to become what it is today.

Quotes:

  • Besides all this, if you are idle, and take to bad courses, you will hurt those of your brethren who are slaves, and do all in your power to prevent their being free.
  • Good servants frequently make good masters.
  • He will bring us all, rich and poor, white and black, to his judgment seat.
  • I have had more experience in the world than the most of you, and I have seen a great deal of the vanity, and wickedness of it.
  • I suppose I have had more advantages and privileges than most of you, who are slaves have ever known, and I believe more than many white people have enjoyed, for which I desire to bless God, and pray that he may bless those who have given them to me.
  • If we should ever get to Heaven, we shall find nobody to reproach us for being black, or for being slaves.
  • In hopes of this I will beg of you to spare no pains in trying to learn to read. If you are once engaged you may learn.
  • Let all the time you can get be spent in trying to learn to read.
  • There are but two places where all go after death, white and black, rich and poor; those places are Heaven and Hell. Heaven is a place made for those, who are born again, and who love God, and it is a place where they will be happy for ever.
  • Those of you who can read I must beg you to read the Bible, and whenever you can get time, study the Bible, and if you can get no other time, spare some of your time from sleep, and learn what the mind and will of God is.
  • We live so little time in this world that it is no matter how wretched and miserable we are, if it prepares us for heaven.
  • When I was at Hartford in Connecticut, where I lived during the war, I published several pieces which were well-received, not only by those of my own colour, but by a number of the white people, who thought they might do good among their servants.

Compiled from http://famouspoetsandpoems.com/poets/jupiter_hammon/biography and www.anothershadeofcolor.com.

 
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