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Student discovers forgotten poem by first African-American writer

By// Mariah Craddick

A graduate student at the University of Texas at Arlington recently uncovered a piece of history dating back to the days of slavery, according to NBC 5 KXAS

While completing research on the first African-American writer, Jupiter Hammon, Julie McCown discovered one of his earliest poems written. The discovery came accidentally while McCown was looking for another particular piece of Hammon’s writing.

“[Librarians] kept emailing me: ‘No, we don’t have what you want. We don’t have what you want.’ And then finally someone said, ‘We don’t have what you want, but here’s this poem,” she said.

The poem was found at the Manuscripts and Archives at Yale University Library in Connecticut. It is dated 1786.

“For a 200-plus-year-old manuscript, it was in perfect condition,” said UTA professor and expert on African-American literature Cedrick May. “I took one look at it and I said, ‘This looks pretty authentic. It’s either a great hoax or this is the real deal.’ This is a poem that we’ve never seen before.”

What makes this discovery all the more interesting is Hammon’s shifted perspective on the idea of slavery. In this new poem, Hammon describes slavery as evil, while in previous writings he cited it as the will of God.

“There’s a big difference in the way that he talks about slavery here than how he talks about slavery in other works,” said May. “I think Jupiter Hammon’s masters through they were going to keep that out of the public eye and they put [the poem] away.”