Francis Ellen Watkins Harper was an abolitionist, suffragist, poet and writer, and the first published Black women in the U.S.
She was born in Baltimore in 1825 to free parents, and attended the Academy for Negro Youth, which was run by her uncle. After a brief career as a teacher, she became a traveling speaker for the abolitionist movement. She also helped enslaved people escape to freedom on the Underground Railroad, and was a prolific writer for anti-slavery newspapers, earning her a reputation as a pioneer of African-American journalism.
Following the end of slavery, Harper served as an activist for women’s rights, civil rights and universal education. She wrote several collections of poetry and novels, and her short story, “The Two Offers,” was the first short story published by an African-American. Throughout her life, she was active in both the African Methodist Episcopal and Unitarian churches. Her writing reflects both her commitment to social justice and a spiritual depth that comes from a writer’s lived experience.
For our inspiration today, we’re taking a look at a Harper poem titled “Songs for the People.”
SONGS FOR THE PEOPLE
By Francis Ellen Watkins Harper
Let me make the songs for the people,
Songs for the old and young;
Songs to stir like a battle-cry
Wherever they are sung.
Not for the clashing of sabres,
For carnage nor for strife;
But songs to thrill the hearts of men
With more abundant life.
Let me make the songs for the weary,
Amid life’s fever and fret,
Till hearts shall relax their tension,
And careworn brows forget.
Let me sing for little children,
Before their footsteps stray,
Sweet anthems of love and duty,
To float o’er life’s highway.
I would sing for the poor and aged,
When shadows dim their sight;
Of the bright and restful mansions,
Where there shall be no night.
Our world, so worn and weary,
Needs music, pure and strong,
To hush the jangle and discords
Of sorrow, pain, and wrong.
Music to soothe all its sorrow,
Till war and crime shall cease;
And the hearts of men grown tender
Girdle the world with peace.
FOR ADDITIONAL READING: See Poems by Francis E. W. Harper, edited by James Burd Brewster.
More spiritual nuggets for today …
On this day in 1933, the word “Pakistan” is coined, contributing to the push for a separate Muslim homeland in South Asia.
It appeared in a pamphlet titled the “Pakistan Declaration” that was circulated to British and Indian delegates of a round table in London. The term is actually an acronym comprised of letters in the names of the five northern units of India: Punjab, Afghan Province, Kashmir, Sind and Baluchistan. In the pamphlet, the author, Choudhary Rahmat Ali, wrote:
“Our religion and culture, our history and tradition, our social code and economic system, our laws of inheritance, succession and marriage are fundamentally different from those of most peoples living in the rest of India. The ideals which move our people to make the highest sacrifices are essentially different from those which inspire the Hindus to do the same. These differences are not confined to broad, basic principles. Far from it. They extend to the minutest details of our lives.”
Today is also the birthday of the Welsh journalist, Henry Morton Stanley, in 1841.
In 1871 the New York Herald sent Stanley to Africa to search for the missing explorer and Christian missionary, David Livingstone. He eventually located Livingstone in the village of Ujiji, along the shore of Lake Tanganyika in present-day Tanzania. According to The Herald’s account, Stanley greeted him with the line, “Doctor Livingstone, I presume?” And Livingstone answered, “Yes, and I feel thankful I am here to welcome you.” In reality, their greeting was probably much less dramatic. But it made for great reading and that’s the version history records.
And that’s today’s Spiritual Almanac.
Be kind, take good care and we’ll see you soon.