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, 1863–1864Edited by Elizabeth Lorang and R. J. Weir
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FOR THE ANGLO-AFRICAN.New York, Sept. 15, 1863.
I am come again to my native land! From the far off bounding sea— Once more to my own dear hills and dales, With a spirit light and free!
Once more to my native scenes and skies— Once more to the loved ones home; Once more to my placid streams and lakes, I merrily, merrily come!
Once more 'mid the din and clash of swords— 'Mid the roar of musketry! Where the daring sable warrior strikes For God and Liberty!
Once more 'mid the flow of blood and tears— Where the cannon's iron voice, Speaks Freedom on the Southern plains, And makes the slave rejoice!
Once more to my dark-eyed maiden-love, To make her red cheeks glow! Once more to the angel heart I won In days of long ago!
- John Willis Menard (1838–1893), born in Illinois to free Afro-Creole parents. Details of his early life are scarce. In 1863, Menard, a known, outspoken proponent of black emigration and colonization, was hired as a clerk in the federal Emigration Office (Phillip W. Magness and Sebastian N. Page, Colonization after Emancipation: Lincoln and the Movement for Black Resettlement [Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2011], 32). In the same year, he served as a member of an exploratory delegation to investigate the suitability of a free black colony in Honduras. According to Magness and Page, upon his return to the port of New York City, Menard "immediately began disseminating information about the colony within the northern free black community" (46). This trip and his return to the United States prompted Menard to write "Home Again," one of three poems attributed to Menard published in the Anglo-African in the latter half of the war. The others are "Voices of Long Ago" (March 28, 1863, ), apparently written for the newspaper, and "One Year Ago To-Day: Dedicated to the Emancipated Slaves of the District of Columbia" (May 2, 1863, ), reprinted from the Washington Star of April 17, 1863.In the aftermath of the war, Menard settled in New Orleans. In 1868 he was "the first of the black Reconstruction politicians to be elected to Congress" (William E. Gatewood, Jr., Aristocrats of Color: The Black Elite, 1880–1920 [Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1990], 276). He was to represent the Second Louisiana Congressional District, but the election was contested, and Menard was never seated as a congressman. In 1871 Menard and his family (wife, Elizabeth, and children Willis, Mary, and Alice) moved to Jacksonville, Florida. According to the historian of Menard's Florida years, upon arriving in Jacksonville, Menard first worked as a postal clerk and later as "deputy collector of internal review for the Florida district" (Bess Beatty, "John Willis Menard: A Progressive Black in Post–Civil War Florida," Florida Historical Quarterly, 59 no. 2 [October 1980]: 123). Menard became involved in Florida politics, first as a Republican and then as an Independent; he returned to the Republican Party in the 1880s. In 1889 Menard returned to Washington, DC, where he worked in the census office. Two years later, he and several other African American leaders founded the Southern States Colored Republican Association (Beatty, 140, 141). Menard died in Washington, DC on October 8, 1893. For more on Menard, particularly his political career, see Bess Beatty, "John Willis Menard: A Progressive Black in Post–Civil War Florida," 123–43.No comprehensive bibliography of Menard's poetry exists, but during the war he published in the Anglo-African, Christian Recorder, and Douglass' Monthly. (His contributions to Douglass' Monthly may be limited to a letter he wrote in response to Douglass's negative views of emigration and colonization.) His only collection of poetry, Lays in Summer Lands, was published in 1879.
- Menard wrote "Home Again" upon his return from a fact-finding tour of British Honduras. Encouraged by Lincoln, the British Honduras Company organized and sponsored the trip as part of a larger attempt to generate interest in their colonization scheme (Phillip W. Magness and Sebastian N. Page, Colonization after Emancipation: Lincoln and the Movement for Black Resettlement [Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2011], 41–46). Support for controversial emigration schemes within black communities had ebbed as the war presented new opportunities for a better future in the United States. Responding to Menard's continued commitment to emigration in March 1863, an editorial notice in the Christian Recorder advised him to "let that old hobby lie still" (March 21, 1863, ). Menard was unmoved. Before departing for British Honduras, he sent a public farewell letter for publication in the Anglo-African: "I feel that the time has come for emigrationists to lay aside their harps and put their theory to practice . . . . We cannot all emigrate: neither can we all remain in this country, satisfied with mocked freedom" (June 20, 1863, ). A notice from John Hodge, agent and manager of the British Honduras Company, appeared on the back page of the same issue: "John W. Menard, a practical farmer from the State of Illinois, is gone to examine Honduras: its soil, products, and its adaptedness for the emigration of farmers and laborers of the African race now in the United States" ().The Anglo-African had links to both the Haitian emigration movement and Henry Highland Garnet's African Civilization Society. Before Thomas Hamilton sold the newspaper to James Redpath, white abolitionist and director of the Haitian Emigration Bureau, the Weekly Anglo-African hosted intense debate about emigration schemes. Under the nominal management of George Lawrence Jr., the newspaper (later renamed the Pine and Palm) promoted the bureau's agenda; anti-emigrationists were delighted when Robert Hamilton resurrected the weekly Anglo-African in July 1861 and once more gave their arguments column space. In addition, Robert Hamilton had served on the African Civilization Society's board of directors in early 1859 (Peter C. Ripley, et al., ed., The Black Abolitionist Papers: The United States, 1859–1865 [Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1992], 5:10). Menard had also worked for the African Civilization Society (Magness and Page, 43–44).These connections might have led Menard to identify the Anglo-African as a suitable vehicle for his letters about British Honduras. He returned to the United States in mid-September (Anglo-African, September 19, 1863, ). Thereafter he sent the newspaper "Reminiscences" (October 3, 1863, ) and submitted a glowing report to Lincoln (published in the Anglo-African of October 24, 1863, ). In spite of his promotional efforts, the British Honduras Company failed to establish an African American colony.