VERY soon the Yankee teachers
Came down and set up school;
But, oh! how the Rebs did hate it,-
It was agin' their rule.
Our masters always tried to hide
Book learning from our eyes;
Knowledge didn't agree with slavery-
'Twould make us all too wise.
But some of us would try to steal
A little from the book,
And put the words together,
And learn by hook or crook.
I remember Uncle Caldwell,
Who took pot-liquor fat
And greased the pages of his book,
And hid it in his hat.
And had his master ever seen
The leaves up on his head,
He'd have thought them greasy papers,
But nothing to be read.
And there was Mr. Turner's Ben,
Who heard the children spell,
And picked the words right up by heart,
And learned to read 'em well.
Well, the Northern folks kept sending
The Yankee teachers down;
And they stood right up and helped us,
Though Rebs did sneer and frown.
And, I longed to read my Bible,
For precious words it said;
But when I begun to learn it,
Folks just shook their heads,
And said there is no use trying,
Oh! Chloe, you're too late;
But as I was rising sixty,
I had no time to wait.
So I got a pair of glasses,
And straight to work I went,
And never stopped till I could read
The hymns and Testament.
Then I got a little cabin-
A place to call my own-
And I felt as independent
As the queen upon her throne.
Who was Frances Harper? Frances Ellen Watkins Harper lived on this earth from 1825-1911. Born free in Baltimore, Maryland, she was a best-selling black poetress, essayist, and novelist. Her main subjects were the evils of racism, slavery, and the need for temperance. Along with Frederick Douglass she assisted in forming The American Equal Rights Association and publicly questioned why rights for black women were not included in the fight for white woman and black male sufferage. Her novels and poetry are available at the library or at reasonable prices on Amazon or other websites that sell books.
Information obtained from:
Gilbert, Sandra M. and Susan Gubar eds. The Norton Anthology of Literature: The Middle Ages Through the Turn of the Century. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2007.