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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: National Anti-Slavery Standard (21 November 1863)
J. G. McKee, "God's Own Poor" National Anti-Slavery Standard (21 November 1863): [4]View Poem Image
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Tell me not of Burmah's heathen, Far away o'er ocean's foam; Teach them, teach them, who can reach them; We have heathen nearer home— God's own Poor.
Tell me not of Hindoo mothers, By the Gunja[1] weeping wild: Our own crockodiles of slavery Swallow many a mother's child— God's own Poor.
Slavery's prison-pens unpeopled, Slavery's bastile[2] bolts unbarred, On us pour their pleading thousands, Crushed in soul, in body scarred— God's own Poor.
From the camp and hut and hovel Comes the Macedonian cry,[3] Come and clothe us ere we perish, Come and teach us ere we die— Helpless Poor.
Now unshackled Ethiopia Stretches out her hands to thee;[4] Teach her now to read the story How Christ "makes His people free"—[5] His own Poor.


  1. Ambiguous. Context implies the River Ganges, or "Ganga Ma"—the holiest of India's rivers.Go back
  2. Prison fortress in Paris, stormed by Revolutionaries in 1789; a symbol of oppression.Go back
  3. A cry for help, from Acts 16:9: "a vision appeared to Paul in the night: There stood a man of Macedonia, and prayed him, saying, Come over into Macedonia, and help us." The phrase "Come over and help us!" was much quoted by nineteenth-century Christian missionaries.Go back
  4. Psalm 68:31, "Princes shall come out of Egypt; Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands unto God." A crucial text for abolitionists and activists, interpreted as a prophecy of salvation and liberation.Go back
  5. Probably a reference to Galatians 5:1: "Stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage."Go back
  6. Joseph G. McKee (1832–1868), Presbyterian minister and missionary. At about fourteen, McKee left Ireland for the United States (Rev. James M'Neal, "Biographical Sketch of Rev. Jos. G. McKee," in A History of the Colored Schools of Nashville, Tennessee, comp. G. W. Hubbard [Nashville, TN: Wheeler, 1874], 31). He attended Westminster College in New Wilmington, Pennsylvania, and joined the ministry of the United Presbyterian Church on completing his theological training. Thereafter he worked as a missionary in Nebraska (31). He had been preparing himself to join his uncle's mission in India when the Second Synod of the West chose him to led their first mission among the freedpeople of Nashville, Tennessee (Rev. J. W. Wait, "The United Presbyterian Mission among the Freedmen in Nashville," in Hubbard, A History of the Colored Schools of Nashville, 7).
    McKee arrived in Nashville in late September 1863; on October 13 he opened a large missionary school for freedpeople in the city's northwest Baptist Church. In the winter of 1863–64, "the suffering [of the freedpeople] was so great the teachers' time was employed in giving relief, distributing food, clothing, fuel, obtaining homes for the houseless, etc." (7). McKee's health broke down, forcing him to return north in March 1864. He rejoined the mission in late December. For nearly four years, McKee dedicated himself to subsequent Presbyterian missions in Nashville, in spite of poor health, which continued to limit his activities. In 1865 the McKee School was built with funds he had raised in the North. Illness forced him to resign his post as superintendent of the mission in the summer of 1868, and he died on September 25.
    Go back
  7. The dateline of October 1863 identifies this poem as having been written shortly after McKee's arrival in Nashville and near the time of the opening of the missionary school there.Go back