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Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton by Don Tate

George Moses Horton - POET

Don Tate, a talented author and illustrator, has recently had a new book released by Peachtree (2015).
It is the story of  George Moses Horton.  Horton was born on a tobacco plantation, in Chatham County, North Carolina, approximately 1798.  His master who enslaved him from birth, was William Horton. George Moses Horton taught himself to read and during his teen years, around 1815 he began to compose poems.  He recited them aloud and sold them to people who crowded around him at the Chapel Hill farmers market.  Those attending the University of North Carolina encouraged him by purchasing his love poems and giving him books.  A professor's wife and novelist, Caroline Lee Whiting Hentz helped him publish his poems in the local newspaper.  She was instrumental in helping him publish his first collection of poetry, The Hope of Liberty (1829).  He became the first African American man to publish a book in the South.  He was also one of the first to protest slavery with his poetry.  His efforts to earn enough money to buy his freedom were blocked but he did manage to use his income from his poetry to buy his time and he became a full-time poet and handyman at the university.  This continued for over 30 years while he was gathering his poems to publish The Poetical Works in 1845, and Naked Genius in 1865.  Finally after 68 years enslaved in the south, he was freed by the Civil War and settled in Philadelphia where he lived the last 17 years or so, in freedom.  He died in approximately 1883.  Chatham County, North Carolina has honored him by naming a middle school in his honor, and in 1978, June 28 was declared George Moses Horton Day.  Horton has received several awards and accolades.

Photo by Don Tate - Circle City Books and Music
Pittsboro, N.C.
Don Tate wrote and illustrated a picture book about Horton, and while on a trip to North Carolina, he took this picture, without noting the location or the particulars about the picture - noticing only the name of George Moses Horton, the subject of his just released book.

Mysteries (or unanswered questions) always interest me. So I went on a search to figure out where and what this picture was part of.  Thanks to Angela Burt, Branch Manager of the Chatham County Library in Pittsboro, NC - I now know the location of this picture. A call to the library, and sharing the picture yielded this information.  This is a mural on the side of the Circle City Books & Music. The store is located in Pittsboro, NC at 121 Hillsboro Street.

Ms. Burt also told me that Doris Betts was a local writer as well. Maya Angelou was not from Chatham County but a little research tells me that Angelou visited Bennett College (Greensboro, N.C.) and the Horton Middle School students who had been immersing themselves in the writing of Angelou were able to hear her speak there in 2007. Tantalus in Love by Alan Shapiro was an acclaimed book of poetry from 2005 - which tells me this painting was executed sometime after 2005, and since Angelou is mentioned I'm betting after her visit to NC in 2007. Shapiro's connection to NC is that he is an American poet and professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Charles Frazier whose name is shown on the corner of this photo is an American historical novelist. ... Frazier was born in Asheville, North Carolina. He won the U.S. National Book Award for Fiction for Cold Mountain (1997) which I am guessing is the book represented here as the cover was blue -- his other many books are other colors.

A visit to the store's Facebook page indicates that as of August 16, 2015 when Circle City Books & Music updated their cover photo to use the photograph below, the mural was indicated, by a comment posted, as being a beautiful addition to downtown Pittsboro (mural and shop!)."
And further, Tate's photograph was just a snippet of the entire mural long the side of the building.  Kudos to Circle City Books & Music, to Don Tate for making me aware of George Moses Horton, and to Angela Burt at the Chatham County Library for responding to a patron -- even if that patron was nearly 1000 miles and 16 hours away from her library.
After reading Don Tate's book Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton some older readers may wish to explore Horton's life and writing by reading:

Sherman, Joan R. (1997) The Black Bard of South Carolina: George Moses Horton and His Poetry. Chapel Hill Books: University of North Carolina Press.  ISBN  978-0-8078-4648-3.

Horton, George Moses.  (2012) Poems By a Slave. (Classic Reprint Series) Charleston, S.C.: Forgotten Books.  ASIN: B008XDI74C

Horton, George Moses. (2010) The Poetical Works of George M. horton: The Colored Bard of North-Carolina, to which is prefixed the Life of the Author, written by himself.  CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. ISBN-13: 978-1456323240

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful tribute to how authors move us to widen our experience of the world and connect with others also moved by their words, their passion to write