Student Finds Lost Poem of First African-American Writer

Jupiter Hammon penned a poem about slavery in 1786, and the work has recently resurfaced.

Posted: 02/14/2013 12:45 PM EST

One of the earliest writings of Jupiter Hammon, the first African-American poet to be published, has been found. Born into slavery in Long Island, New York, he was allowed to explore his master's library. Hammon went on to publish his first work, "An Evening Thought," in 1760. 

Julie McCown, a doctoral student at the University of Texas at Arlington, was researching several libraries for a particular poem and found success at Manuscripts and Archives at Yale University Library in Connecticut. The poem, published in 1786, is telling of Hammon's evolved thoughts on slavery in America, according to Cedrick May, a UTA professor.

NBC 5 Dallas-Fort Worth reports:

In the newly discovered poem, Hammon shifts from the ideology he held in previous writings, in which he described slavery as the will of God, to a new line of thinking that says slavery was a man-made evil.

"There's a big difference in the way that he talks about slavery here than how he talks about slavery in other works," said May, who said the shift is "a game-changer" in how Hammon's writing is viewed.

May said such an anti-slavery perspective could have been viewed as too inflammatory at the time.

"I think Jupiter Hammon's masters thought they were going to keep that out of the public eye and they put [the poem] away," he said.

After time, the poem was likely misplaced and overlooked, he said. But fortunately and, most importantly, it was not destroyed.

Read the full story here

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(Photo: NBC)

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