Writer's Journal: The Black Poet Laureate
Updated: Jan 28
Not knowing how to write didn't stop this remarkable man, George Moses Horton, from creating celebrated poetry. He constructed his own poems and memorized them without writing them down - until he learned to write when he was thirty years old.
**This Writer's Journal Post references an article by Dustin Bass in the Epoch Times. He is the host of EpochTV's "About the Book," series.**
"Approximately 67 years before the end of American Civil War, George Moses Horton was born. He grew up a slave to the Horton family in North Carolina. While working on the tobacco plantation, his mind freely traversed the world of verse and rhyme. Using old hymnals, he taught himself to read, while also learning the poetic structure of stanzas."
When Horton was sent into Chapel Hill for work-related business, he would venture to the University of North Carolina. Students there were enthralled with his poetry and would purchase lines from him for their own romantic purposes.
His hope was to make enough money to buy his freedom.
Horton continued to sell his verses and eventually a novelist and college professor's wife, Caroline Lee Whiting, began transcribing his poems. Soon, he had enough to publish his first collection, "The Hope of Liberty" in 1829. This was the first book published by an African American - the first by a slave who protested his slavery.
In his 10 stanza poem on "Liberty and Slavery," he wrote:
"Oh, Liberty! Thou golden prize,
So often sought by blood -
We crave thy sacred sun to rise,
The gift of nature's God!"
Though his freedom didn't come until after the end of the Civil War, Horton continued to publish his work. He garnered so much praise that even Governor John Owen and professors at the university supported his request for freedom.
"In 1865 he joined the 9th Michigan Cavalry Volunteers, which traveled throughout North Carolina. Based on those travels and experiences, he wrote his third work, "Naked Genius."
For the final 17 years of his life, he lived in Philadelphia, the famous city where the words were written, "that all men are created equal."
He died in 1883 in Philadelphia, but is best remembered in Chatham County, North Carolina where in 1978, June 28, the day was crowned "George Moses Horton Day." A local middle school was named after him and in 1996, he was inducted into the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame . The following year, he was declared the
Historic Poet Laureate of Chatham County.