Scholarly Editing

The Annual of the Association for Documentary Editing

2013, Volume 34

"Will not these days be by thy poets sung": Poems of the Anglo-African and National Anti-Slavery Standard, 1863–1864

Edited by Elizabeth Lorang and R. J. Weir
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Complete Issue: The Anglo-African (9 May 1863)
Fanny M. Jackson, "The Black Volunteers" The Anglo-African (9 May 1863): [1]View Poem Image
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For the Anglo African.

THE BLACK VOLUNTEERS.

     
We welcome, we welcome, our brave volunteers, Fling your caps to the breeze, boys, and give them three cheers; They have proven their valor by many a scar, But their god-like endurance has been nobler by far. Think ye not that their brave hearts grew sick with delay When the battle-cry summoned their neighbors away; When their offers were spurned and their voices unheeded, And grim Prejudice vaunted their aid was not needed.
Till some pious soul, full of loyal devotion, To whom flesh and muscle were more than a notion, Proposed, that in order to save their own blood, As "drawers of water and hewers of wood"[1] They should use their black brothers;—but the blacks "couldn't see" What great magnanimity prompted the plea; And they scouted the offer as base and inglorious, For they knew that, through God, they should yet be victorious.
But alas! for our country, her insolent horde Has "melted like snow in the glance of the Lord"[2] Aye, the face of the nation grew ghastly and white, When the angel of death crossed her sill in the night And her first-born were slain—then she bowed her proud head, While in sackcloth and ashes she mourned for her dead. Let her weep for her martial pride, weep for her noblest; The southern plains reek with the blood of her boldest
Yet her pride is not humbled by what she has borne, 'Tis necessity's goad that is urging her on[3] To enlist you, my brothers. 'Tis natural, we read, To hate whom we've injured by word or by deed. But God's ways are just: His decrees are immutable, Though often to us they seem dark and inscrutable. He meant not that slavery always should last And over his people its dark shadow cast.
Now, Freedom stands holding with uplifted face, Her hand, dipped in blood, on the brow of our race. Attest it! my country, and never again By this holy baptism, forget we are men, Nor dare, when we've mingled our blood in your battles, To sneer at our bravery and call us your "chattels." Our ancestors fought on your first battle-plains, And you paid them right nobly with insult and chains;[4]
You pitied not even the sad and forlorn, You pensioned their widows and orphans on scorn! In your hour of bitterest trial and need You have called us once more—to your voice we give heed No longer your treacherous faith we'll discuss: But let God be the witness between you and us! We have stout hearts among us, as well do you know, That ne'er quailed before danger or shrank from a foe.
They have come, at your bidding, in dangers to share, And that which is grander, to do and to dare! Then away to the battle-field, brave volunteers, We'll not sadden your parting with womanish tears! Fling out to the breezes your banner of Right, And under its broad folds assemble your might. Go Liberty, Honor, aye, all things most dear, Are intrusted to you to defend and to clear
From the stain of oppression, whose poisonous breath Is less welcome to us than the black wing of death! Tho' millions assail ye, yet fear not their might; They shall vanish like mist in the sun's ruddy light, For God will go with you—His word has been spoken, His gleaming blade never in battle was broken. With Him as your leader, your cause will fail never, Sic itur ad astra[5]—your watchword forever!

Notes

  1. "Now therefore ye are cursed, and there shall none of you be freed from being bondmen, and hewers of wood and drawers of water for the house of my God" (Joshua 9:23). Jackson implies that the government's "offer" to employ black men as military laborers is nothing less than an invitation to accept perpetual bondage.Go back
  2. From Byron's "The Destruction of Sennacherib" (1815), inspired by accounts of the destruction of the king of Assyria's forces in 2 Kings 19:35 and Isaiah 37:36. Jackson quotes from Byron's final stanza: "And the widows of Ashur are loud in their wail, / And the idols are broke in the temple of Baal; / And the might of the Gentile, unsmote by the sword, / Hath melted like snow in the glance of the Lord! (Lord Byron, Selected Poems, ed. Susan J. Wolfson and Peter J. Manning [Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1996], lines 21–24).Go back
  3. Abraham Lincoln's final Emancipation Proclamation freed "all persons held as slaves" within rebel territory on January 1, 1863, and made provision for the US armed services to enlist freedmen of "suitable condition." In the proclamation's closing lines, Lincoln invoked "the considerate judgment of mankind, and the gracious favor of Almighty God" upon "an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution, upon military necessity" (Roy P. Basler, ed., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln [New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1953], 6:29–30).Go back
  4. Jackson here refers to African American Patriots who fought against the British during the Revolutionary War (see William C. Nell, Colored Patriots of the American Revolution [Boston: Walcutt, 1855]). Jackson's speaker confronts America personified with a shameful tradition of racial prejudice and betrayal; African American revolutionaries received bad "pay" for good service. Jackson insists that her contemporaries serve under a new compact, witnessed by the ultimate judge.Go back
  5. From Virgil's Aeneid, Book IX: "that's the path to the stars" (Robert Fagles, trans., The Aeneid, with notes by Bernard Knox [London: Penguin, 2006], 287). Apollo exclaims "Sic itur ad astra" in praise of Aeneas's son Iulus, after watching the untried youth slay Numanus for disparaging the manhood of the Phrygian soldiers.Go back
  6. Fanny Marion Jackson Coppin (1837–1913), born into slavery in the District of Columbia and emancipated by an aunt before her tenth birthday. She moved to New Bedford, Massachusetts, and then to Newport, Rhode Island, where she combined domestic work with study in order to enter the Rhode Island State Normal School. During the Civil War years, Jackson attended Oberlin College, "then the only College in the United States where colored students were permitted to study" (Fanny Jackson-Coppin, Reminiscences of School Life, and Hints on Teaching [Philadelphia: A. M. E. Book Concern, 1913], 12).
     
    At Oberlin, Jackson took "the gentleman's course" with "plenty of Latin and Greek in it, and as much mathematics as one could shoulder" (12). She distinguished herself as an exceptional scholar. "I never rose to recite in my classes at Oberlin but I felt that I had the honor of the whole African race upon my shoulders," she recalled in Reminiscences of School Life, and Hints on Teaching (15). The faculty recognized her academic achievements when they gave her preparatory classes to teach in her junior year. During her time at Oberlin, she also led evening classes for freedpeople and raised funds for African American soldiers. At the same time, she supported the Anglo-African with occasional contributions, and collected funds to send copies of the newspaper to soldiers. At the same time, she supported the Anglo-African, collecting funds to send copies of the newspapers to soldiers and assisting in the organization of a "National Fair" in aid of the paper (Anglo-African, June 4, 1864, [2]; January 21, 1865, [3]).
     
    After graduation, Jackson began her career as a teacher at Philadelphia's Institute for Colored Youth. In 1869 Jackson was appointed as principal of the whole school; the promotion broke new ground, as "no woman at this time headed a coeducational institution that had both male and female faculty" (Linda M. Perkins, "Coppin, Fanny Jackson," in American National Biography Online). She continued her pioneering work as an educator after marrying minister Levi Jenkins Coppin in 1881. Like Coppin, Jackson was a dedicated member of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. In 1878 she established a "Women's Department" in the Christian Recorder. For more on Jackson's life and work, see Linda M. Perkins's biography, Fanny Jackson Coppin and the Institute for Colored Youth, 1865–1902 (London: Garland, 1987).
    Go back
  7. "The Black Volunteers" was reprinted in Oberlin's Lorain County News of June 10, 1863, under the title "To the 54th Mass. Volunteers." The News identified the Anglo-African as the source of its text.Go back