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The First Known Work Of African American Literature!

There's an incredible story behind this poem.

Written by Lucy Terry Prince in 1746, "Bars Fight" is the first (known) work of African-American literature. Prince was a poet, abolitionist, and orator. It's reported that when she argued in court against false land claims the Judge stated that her "eloquence surpassed that of lawyers" (via). It's clear that she was brilliant. And the injustice she suffered in our country is truly something to be ashamed of.

Lucy Terry Prince was born in West Africa.

The exact date of her birth is unknown, but she was likely born sometime during or after the mid-1720s. At a very early age she was captured by slave traders and brought to Rhode Island. She wasn't emancipated until 1756 when she married Abijah Prince, a financially successful free black man. They settled and had six children (two of whom may have fought in the Revolutionary War). Lucy Terry Prince also petitioned unsuccessfully for one of her sons to attend Williams College, giving a speech which reportedly lasted for over three hours (via). She also fought to protect her family from racist harassment and vandalism (via); when they moved to Guilford, Vermont a neighboring family has willfully damaged their property and in 1785 they successfully petitioned the governor for protection.

History is incomplete.

Not only did Lucy Terry Prince pave the way for others (like Phillis Wheatley, whose works were the first published African-American book of poetry), her life was evidence that contradicted the lies slaveowners told about the people the abused and exploited. Slave owners attempted to justify slavery by arguing that the people whose lives they robbed were better off, because they could never be "civilized" or "intelligent" (via). It's a flimsy, egregious lie. And it's one that has persisted in our consciousness, whether we want it to or not. We don't consider the great nations of Africa that existed long before the United States. For that matter, we don't consider the great nations that were here before Europeans colonized it. We don't consider the literary contributions of people like Lucy Terry Prince who lived incredible lives despite numerous social and legal barriers.

We can't change the past, but we can remember it!

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