by Phillis Wheatley
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Olaudah Equiano Recalls the Middle Passage
- Olaudah Equiano
Olaudah Equiano (1745-1797), known by people as Gustavus Vassa, was a freed slave turned prominent African man in London. Equiano became an abolitionist and began to record his life story after being freed. This text is an excerpt from Equiano’s autobiography, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, in which Equiano tells the tale of his brutal voyage across the Atlantic to the Caribbean.Pair “On Being Brought from Africa to America” and “Olaudah Equiano Recalls the Middle Passage” to further discuss America’s history of slavery. Why is it important for us to read the work of former slaves? How do Wheatley’s and Equiano’s tone and themes differ?
To His Excellency, General Washington
- Phillis Wheatley
Written by Phillis Wheatley (c. 1753-1784), a former slave and the first published African-American female poet in U.S. history, it is an ode to the future first president, commending his achievements as general in the American Revolutionary War.Pair these two poems by the same poet and ask students to compare the form, literary devices, and themes explored in each.
A Defiant Muhammad Ali Was Cherished By Black Men
- Karen Grigsby Bates
Muhammad Ali’s legacy as a symbol of courage and a challenge to the status quo is remembered in light of his passing.Pair “A Defiant Muhammad Ali Was Cherished by Black Men” with “On Being Brought from Africa to America” and have students consider how the poem relates to and informs the role religion played in Ali’s life and activism. How does the form of Wheatley’s poem affect its tone? Is this in line with the sentiments expressed by Ali, based on the quotation of his and the general description of his behavior and the effect it had on those who followed his life and career?
West African Society at the Point of European Contact
“West African Society at the Point of European Impact” describes the great cultural achievements of West Africa in the centuries before the Atlantic slave trade.Pair “West African Society at the Point of European Contact” with “On Being Brought from Africa to America” and ask students to discuss how she felt about being taken from West Africa. Phillis Wheatley was born in West Africa, but was taken from her home and forced into slavery in the United States. Do you think all slaves felt the same way she did? Why or why not?
The Negro Speaks of Rivers
- Langston Hughes
The speaker in this famous Langston Hughes poem uses symbolism to explain the connection they feel between their ancestry and identity.Pair “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” with “On Being Brought from Africa to America” and ask students to discuss how the two poems address the topic of African American identity. What effect do you think the author’s backgrounds had on their perspectives of their identities?