On Being Brought From Africa To America

Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784)

As the earliest written poem on this list, On Being Brought From Africa To America is gentle and benevolent writing in spite of its inspiration coming from the horrors of slavery. Ironically enough, this poem is quite sparing with the details. Like many other civil rights-oriented pieces of literature, this poem demands what is entitled to everyone: equality. Black History can thank this poem because it was written by the first notable female African American poet, and because, like Langston Hughes’s I Too, instead of rattling a belligerent fist, it waves a gentle hand at the conflict of unfairness.

‘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.