First African-American Poet Still Showing New Work

It’s the handwriting that stands out to Cedrick May.

As an Associate Professor of English at the University of Texas at Arlington, he assigned his doctoral students to find some of the known works by Jupiter Hammon – the first published African-American poet in history.

What one student ended up finding was a previously unpublished piece by the poet that shows how deeply he thought about the intersection between slavery and religion.

“He’s defining slavery as sin for the first time,” says Professor May. “He’s defying the idea that you can have slavery and be Christian at the same time.”

But Jupiter Hammon’s handwriting – which, according to Professor May, was better than his masters’ – along with the watermarks, and smudges, are what make this document special. “To hold it,” says Professor May “was quite an emotional experience in many ways because this is a part of our collective cultural history as Americans.”

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