New Exhibit: “…at the crossroads on the path to liberation”

Come by the Maryland Room in Hornbake Library to see our latest exhibition “…at the crossroads on the path of liberation”: Changemakers in the Africa Diaspora on display now through mid-March.

This collection of material from our archives invites the University of Maryland community to explore some of the revolutionary and transformative literature in our collections created by changemakers throughout the African diaspora who challenged an oppressive status quo. Through both words and actions, these individuals changed the way people thought about race and class. These works present ideas that push us to take a more critical look at our culture, politics and systemic racism. Some of these authors will be known to you and some might be new. We encourage you to visit and to learn more about these changemakers.

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“Get Out the Vote” Spotlight – Frances Ellen Watkins Harper

Let me make the songs for the people, 
Songs for the old and young;
Songs to stir like a battle-cry
Wherever they are sung.


Not for the clashing of sabres
For carnage nor for strife;
But songs to thrill the hearts of men
With more abundant life. 

Let me make the songs for the weary,
Amid life’s fever and fret,
Till hearts shall relax their tension,
And careworn brows forget. 


Let me sing for little children,
Before their footsteps stray,
Sweet anthems of love and duty,
To float o’er life’s highway. 


I would sing for the poor and aged,  
When shadows dim their sight;
Of the bright and restful mansions,  
Where there shall be no night. 


Our world, so worn and weary,  
Needs music, pure and strong,
To hush the jangle and discords  
Of sorrow, pain, and wrong. 


Music to soothe all its sorrow,  
Till war and crime shall cease; 
And the hearts of men grown tender  
Girdle the world with peace.

Songs for the People. By Frances Ellen Watkins Harper.

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper was an abolitionist, women’s rights activist, and acclaimed poet born in Baltimore in 1825. Born to free parents and orphaned at three, Watkins was raised by her maternal uncle Rev. William Watkins, an abolitionist and civil rights activist, and his wife Henrietta. She was educated at her uncle’s school, the Watkins Academy for Negro Youth.

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Spotlight on Frances Ellen Watkins Harper

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper was an abolitionist, women’s rights activist, and acclaimed poet born in Baltimore in 1825. Born to free parents and orphaned at three, Watkins was raised by her maternal uncle Rev. William Watkins, an abolitionist and civil rights activist, and his wife Henrietta. She was educated at her uncle’s school, the Watkins Academy for Negro Youth. While she was still very young, Harper worked as a nursemaid and seamstress for a white family that owned a bookshop. There, she discovered her love for books and filled her free time with reading. 

From there, Watkins grew up to become the first African American woman to publish a short story, and she published her first book of poetry, Forest Leaves, at age 20. Harper went on to publish another book of poetry, many short stories, and several novels, including her most popular work Iola Leroy, or Shadows Uplifted. Watkins’ writing often addressed issues of race, gender, and their intersections. 

The poem below, “Slave Mother,” highlights the painful relationship between motherhood and Blackness that Harper observed during her lifetime. 

Heard you that shriek? It rose

   So wildly on the air,

It seem’d as if a burden’d heart

   Was breaking in despair.

Saw you those hands so sadly clasped—

   The bowed and feeble head—

The shuddering of that fragile form—

   That look of grief and dread?

Saw you the sad, imploring eye?

   Its every glance was pain,

As if a storm of agony

   Were sweeping through the brain.

She is a mother pale with fear,

   Her boy clings to her side,

And in her kyrtle vainly tries

   His trembling form to hide.

He is not hers, although she bore

   For him a mother’s pains;

He is not hers, although her blood

   Is coursing through his veins!

He is not hers, for cruel hands

   May rudely tear apart

The only wreath of household love

   That binds her breaking heart.

His love has been a joyous light

   That o’er her pathway smiled,

A fountain gushing ever new,

   Amid life’s desert wild.

His lightest word has been a tone

   Of music round her heart,

Their lives a streamlet blent in one—

   Oh, Father! must they part?

They tear him from her circling arms,

   Her last and fond embrace.

Oh! never more may her sad eyes

   Gaze on his mournful face.

No marvel, then, these bitter shrieks

   Disturb the listening air:

She is a mother, and her heart

   Is breaking in despair.

In her discussions of intersectionality, Watkins alienated many white suffragists. She criticized the racism and selfishness of their refusal to support the 15th Amendment. In response, she helped found the American Woman Suffrage Association, which actively supported the 15th Amendment. She was also active in the “Colored Section” of Philadelphia’s Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. 

Later, Watkins helped organize the National Association of Colored Women (NACW). The NACW focused on both black and women’s issues such as women’s suffrage, lynching, and Jim Crow laws, and became the most prominent organization of the African American Women’s Suffrage Movement. 


Post by Rigby Philips
History, specializing in women’s history and the history of sexuality
(2021)

New Resource: Black Writers and Artists in Special Collections

Literature and Rare Books in Special Collection and University Archives is a rich resource of works black artists and writers. Explore these items in our new subject guide on Black Writers and Artists!  

Non-fiction writing by black authors covers a wide variety of topics, including pamphlets on politics, racism, activism, and culture in our African American and African pamphlet collection. The subject guide also highlights fiction ranging from children’s books by Chinua Achebe to literary masterpieces by writers such as James Baldwin.  Contributions of black artists and printers to other parts of the bookmaking process, such as illustrators like Cledie Taylor and black owned presses like the Broadside Press, are also included.

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Celebrating Black Authors and Poets in Special Collections

To celebrate Black History Month, a new exhibit is on display in Hornbake Library highlighting black authors and poets from our literary collections in Special Collections and University Archives!

On display are landmark 20th century literary works by Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, Alex Haley, W.E.B. DuBois, Chester Himes, John A. Williams , and Richard Wright. Also included in the exhibit is poetry by Langston Hughes, Lucille Clifton, and Ted Joans.

Ranging from signed first editions (Invisible Man, Ellison) to popular trade paperback editions (If He Hollers Let Him Go, Himes), these titles offer a glimpse into the wide variety of African American literature and poetry in our collections.

Also on display is a rare edition of Negro Anthology, edited by activist Nancy Cunard. Published in 1934, Negro Anthology is a collection of poetry, historical studies, music, and other writings documenting Black culture of the era. Artists represented in the book include Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston.

Visit Hornbake Library to view these impressive works of literature in person, or visit us online to explore more titles in our literary collections.

Have any questions? Contact us!