Poetry and the Struggle for Justice

tags: African American history, poetry

Paul Lewis is a professor of English at Boston College and editor of The Citizen Poets of Boston: A Collection of Forgotten Poems, 1789-1820.

On the first anniversary of the Jan. 6 insurrection, a 201-year-old poem reminds us that the struggle for justice has been ingrained in American history from the start.

Ghostly, to you, tho’ I’m speaking,

Deign to lend a list’ning ear,

To your duty now awaken,

Hear my pleading spectre, hear.

These lines come at the end of a poem called “The Ghost of Justice,” which appeared in the August 1820 issue of The Emancipator, the nation’s first newspaper devoted entirely to abolitionism. In the poem, Justice herself rails against the system of enslavement as a betrayal of the spirit of the American Revolution.

Loud your fathers, then complained

Of the yoke of British thrall;

Loudly too, they then maintained,

Freedom is the right of all

At a time when the last revolutionary soldiers were dying, this appeal to their defense of liberty came naturally. In laying out her case, Justice recalls that the nascent United States was enjoying heaven-granted abundance and renown among nations only to disgrace itself by inflicting “horrid” misery and “oppression” on “Afric’s helpless sable sons.”

Read entire article at Boston Globe

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