Events and Historical Figures to Celebrate this Month
Events and Historical Figures to Celebrate this Month

Events and Historical Figures to Celebrate this Month

Larry Holzwarth - January 31, 2021

Events and Historical Figures to Celebrate this Month
Phillis Wheatley corresponded with several of the Founding Fathers, including George Washington and Benjamin Franklin, both of whom admired her poetry. Wikimedia

20. Phillis Wheatley wrote poetry admired by many of the Founding Fathers

Kidnaped from her African home and sold into slavery in colonial Boston, Phillis learned to read and write from the family which enslaved her. She studied the Bible, the works of Virgil and Ovid, John Milton’s Paradise Lost, and other classic literature. Estimated to have been around the age of 7 upon arrival, by the age of 18 she wrote poetry of her own. In 1770 she published An Elegiac Poem, on the Death of that Celebrated Divine, and Eminent Servant of Jesus Christ, the Reverend and Learned George Whitefield. It became known under the more manageable name of the Whitefield Elegy, and famous on both sides of the Atlantic. Unable to find publishers willing to promote works by Black authors in America, she went to London, accompanied by her owner’s son. There she published Poems Subjects, Religious and Moral. It was received with acclaim.

Phillis received emancipation on her return to America. She applied the name Columbia to America in her poetry in support of the Revolution, believed to be the first to do so. Wheatley corresponded with George Washington, dedicated a volume of poetry to Benjamin Franklin, and hailed the rebellion against Great Britain after her return to America. She has been called the poet-laureate of the American Revolution. Wheatley married a freeman, John Peters, and took his name in 1778. Peters lacked any form of gainful employment during most of their marriage, and was evidently in debtor’s prison at the time of her death in 1784. Wheatley, the first African American to publish a book in the United States, quickly fell into oblivion for decades.


Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

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“Langston, John Mercer”. Article, History, Art, and Archives. US House of Representatives. Online

“The Continental Army”. Robert K. Wright Jr, US Army Center of Military History. 2006. Online

“Niagara Movement”. Editors, December 2, 2009. Online

“Red Summer. The Race Riots of 1919”. Article, National World War I Museum and Memorial. Online

“NCAAP History: W. E. B. Du Bois”. Article, NAACP History. Online

“Oscar’s First Black Winner Accepted Her Award in a Segregated ‘No Blacks” Hotel”. Seth Abramovitch, The Hollywood Reporter. February 19, 2015

“Garrett A. Morgan”. Article, Ohio History Online.

“Cotton Club of Harlem”. Elizabeth Winter, Black Past. December 16, 2007. Online

“Five Things to Know About Pullman Porters”. Erin Blakemore, Smithsonian Magazine. Smithsonian Magazine. June 30, 2016

“The Northwest Ordinance of 1787”. Article, History, Art, and Archives. US House of Representatives. Online

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“The Work and Impact of Benjamin Banneker”. Article, Online

“Madam C. J. Walker”. Debra Michals, National Women’s History Museum. 2015

“Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey: Together in History”. Steven Marcus, Newsday. February 25, 2017

“Alice Ball’s treatment for leprosy”. Nina Notman, Chemistry World. May 18, 2020

“Leontyne Price”. Article, The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Online

“Phillis Wheatley”. Sondra A. O’Neale, Poetry Foundation. Online