Oct. 17 has been designated as Black Poetry Day, the birthday of Jupiter Hammon, a slave born on Oct. 17, 1711 on an estate on Long Island, NY. Hammon achieved a place in African American literature with the publishing of “An Evening Thought (Salvation by Christ, with Penitential Cries.” Printed on Christmas Day, 1760, the first poem to be published by a person of African descent in America.
For anyone to publish any literary work during this incredibly primitive period sixteen years prior to the birth of the United States of America is astounding. The fact that the writer is a slave is even more remarkable.
Black Poetry Day was first proposed in 1970 by Stanley A. Ransom of Plattsburg, NY. The imminent historian and scholar, who published America's First Negro Poet; Jupiter Hammon of Long Island," published in 1970 and 1983, has been an ardent promoter of Black Poetry Day.
Hammon, a devout Christian who is believed to have been a lay minister, expresses his religious convictions in all of his poetry and prose. In addition to “An Evening Thought” he published another poem “An Address to Miss Phillis Wheatley,” two prose pieces “Essay on the Ten Virgins” and “An Address to the Negroes in the State of New York” along with three other works of poetry.
According to the Grio, earlier this year, University of Texas-Arlington doctoral student, Julie McCown, discovered in the archives of Yale University Library an unpublished poem, “An Essay on Slavery,” written by Hammon in 1786.
In an entry devoted to Hammon in African American Authors, 1745-1945: Bio-bibliographical Critical Sourcebook, Ransom describes the writings of a man absorbed in religious matters:
“His poetry is sincere and enthusiastic, and it is primarily religious: Hammon’s poetry reflects his great intellectual and emotional involvement with religion to the point where it approaches intoxication.”
Although not an officially endorsed federal or state holiday, except in Oregon, Black Poetry Day provides a grand opportunity to celebrate the works of black poets, past and present, on Oct.17, the birthday of Jupiter Hammon, the first published black poet in America.
Take a look at a related article on Frances E.W. Harper, another prominent black poet of the past: Sep. 24: Celebrating the birth of Frances E.W. Harper.