Bury Me in a Free Land

by Frances Harper

Note the placement of the newspaper poem next to accounts of the not-at-all “free” land in the wake of the Dred Scott decision finalized the previous year.

The poem

Make me a grave where’er you will,
In a lowly plain, or a lofty hill;
Make it among earth’s humblest graves,
But not in a land where men are slaves.

I could not rest if around my grave
I heard the steps of a trembling slave;
His shadow above my silent tomb
Would make it a place of fearful gloom.

I could not rest if I heard the tread
Of a coffle gang to the shambles led,
And the mother’s shriek of wild despair
Rise like a curse on the trembling air.

I could not sleep if I saw the lash
Drinking her blood at each fearful gash,
And I saw her babes torn from her breast,
Like trembling doves from their parent nest.

I’d shudder and start if I heard the bay
Of bloodhounds seizing their human prey,
And I heard the captive plead in vain
As they bound afresh his galling chain.

If I saw young girls from their mother’s arms
Bartered and sold for their youthful charms,
My eye would flash with a mournful flame,
My death-paled cheek grow red with shame.

I would sleep, dear friends, where bloated might
Can rob no man of his dearest right;
My rest shall be calm in any grave
Where none can call his brother a slave.

I ask no monument, proud and high,
To arrest the gaze of the passers-by;
All that my yearning spirit craves,
Is bury me not in a land of slaves.


The poem anthologized

White, Newman Ivey, 1892-1948, Walter Clinton Jackson, and Duke University Press. An Anthology of Verse by American Negroes. Durham, N.C.: Trinity College Press, 1924.


The poem in newsprint

The Anti-Slavery Bugle. 22 Nov 1858.

© 2023 Ephemera. . Powered by WordPress. Theme by Viva Themes.