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Song of Liberty

On this day known in history as Juneteenth, we as a nation since 2021 have finally recognized the significance of it. Not the day the Emancipation Proclamation was signed, nor the day it was issued, nor the day the Civil War ended. This was June 19th 1865, months and years after all of those events, when slaves in West Texas were declared free. However, this order stated that "formerly enslaved African Americans were expected to stay in their “present homes”— slave cabins. Further, the relationship between former enslavers and formerly enslaved people would become that of employer and hired laborer, and idleness would not be tolerated. The order demonstrated what the broader society expected of African Americans: that they know their place." Not really freedom, but a first step. Slavery was not abolished until the 13th amendment was ratified in December 1865. Then even slaves in non rebelling states were freed. Liberty was hard to come by.

George Moses Horton was an African American poet, born into slavery on William Horton's plantation in Northampton County, North Carolina. As a young child, he and several family members were moved to a tobacco farm in rural Chatham County, when his owner relocated. Horton composed poems in his mind through his teen years. He was allowed by his master to visit the nearby University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he recited poems to students who eagerly wrote them down and paid him for his compositions. His fame spread, and a collection of poems was published under the title The Hope of Liberty (1829). Horton was the first black southern author and the first African American poet to produce a volume in more than half a century. Two more collections of Horton's poetry include Poetical Works (18 45) and Naked Genius (1865). Horton began calling himself "the Colored Bard of North Carolina." Many of his works were vivid and powerful attacks on slavery. After the Civil War, Horton moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he lived until his death. Once in the north, he never published another verse. During the summer of 2006, UNC Chapel Hill renamed a newly built dorm, previously known as Hinton James North, to George Moses Horton dormitory.

His poem "Song of Liberty" expresses the joy (what little there was) of the arrival in West Texas of the good news. A little known poet, little known verse, perhaps this poem and its author could become part of your day as we recognize and honor the extreme importance of Juneteenth. "Freedom is a joyful story" so let us all rejoice.

Song of Liberty

The glorious pan of liberation,

Opens now, a scene of joy

Rolls spontaneous through the nation,

Which no treason can destroy;

Lift all voices,

All the world the theme employ.

Swell the paean, sing victorious,

Storms subsided, leave a peace,

Liberation, O! how glorious,

Start in numbers, not cease;

Send the shower down,

and the shower shall increase.

Lift on high ten thousand voices,

Blow the trump of Jubilee;

All the slavish land rejoices,

Sing triumphant all are free;

Sing delightful,

All who live this day to see.

Dart ye angels down from glory,

Let your anthems blend with ours;

Freedom is a joyful story,

Raise in songs celestial showers

As in Eden,

Cluster in elysian bowers.


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