Black History Month: Where is Phillis Wheatley?
I have no doubt that if you were able to gather data on the content of every Black History Month lecture, panel, etc. from every school in the country, the total amount of time dedicated to her would be unobservable without an electron microscope. I don’t remember ever hearing her name spoken in the entirety of my thousand years inside educational institutions.
Her best-known poem is likely “On Being Brought from Africa to America”
'Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land, Taught my benighted soul to understand That there's a God, that there's a Saviour too: Once I redemption neither sought nor knew. Some view our sable race with scornful eye, "Their colour is a diabolic die." Remember, Christians, Negro's, black as Cain, May be refin'd, and join th' angelic train.
This one, “On the Death of a Young Lady of Five Years of Age," is also pristinely beautiful.
FROM dark abodes to fair etherial light Th' enraptur'd innocent has wing'd her flight; On the kind bosom of eternal love She finds unknown beatitude above. This known, ye parents, nor her loss deplore, She feels the iron hand of pain no more; The dispensations of unerring grace, Should turn your sorrows into grateful praise; Let then no tears for her henceforward flow, No more distress'd in our dark vale below, Her morning sun, which rose divinely bright, Was quickly mantled with the gloom of night; But hear in heav'n's blest bow'rs your Nancy fair, And learn to imitate her language there. "Thou, Lord, whom I behold with glory crown'd, "By what sweet name, and in what tuneful sound "Wilt thou be prais'd? Seraphic pow'rs are faint "Infinite love and majesty to paint. "To thee let all their graceful voices raise, "And saints and angels join their songs of praise." Perfect in bliss she from her heav'nly home Looks down, and smiling beckons you to come; Why then, fond parents, why these fruitless groans? Restrain your tears, and cease your plaintive moans. Freed from a world of sin, and snares, and pain, Why would you wish your daughter back again? No--bow resign'd. Let hope your grief control, And check the rising tumult of the soul. Calm in the prosperous, and adverse day, Adore the God who gives and takes away; Eye him in all, his holy name revere, Upright your actions, and your hearts sincere, Till having sail'd through life's tempestuous sea, And from its rocks, and boist'rous billows free, Yourselves, safe landed on the blissful shore, Shall join your happy babe to part no more.
You can find more of her poetry here. I can almost see the heads exploding on my campus at the very thought that you’d introduce students to her as representative of what many blacks believed and still believe.