19th Century African-American Newspapers Archives Essay

Excerpt from Essay :

Voice of the Fugitive- an Alternate Nation for Afro-Americans

The African-American community in USA has faced many obstacles but through all its challenges, has withstood the test of time. It has faced severe discrimination in terms of treatment. The poem, 'Genuine Prize Song for Jenny Lind' is a piece that focuses on the depth of these discriminatory practices and establishes an absence of national belonging, where the African-Americans felt it was better to start living someplace else. This analysis on the poem argues that the poem was based on the 'absence of the sentiment of national belonging towards USA, and encourages the Black community to explore other places to settle in, predominantly Canada.'

Many African-Americans following the call for a united front, published papers and periodicals that were aimed at consolidating efforts for freedom from slavery. As Frederick Douglass famously said that if the path taken by the Whites to enslave African-Americans was controlling literacy, the manner in which the African-Americans could regain their freedom was through the written word, which in essence would be the newspapers published by the literate members of the community, who rose to unite people at all levels. (DeLombard 372)

Placement of the Poem

The poem has been published keeping in mind the theme that the community will be better off in Canada than living in America. And the placement, as well as its title makes it prominent among a lot of prose.

But before going on to explain the placement of the poem the layout of the paper has to be discussed to get the feel of what the editor was trying to do. The mast head is clear, and mentions the editor - Henry Bibb, in clear lettering at the top of the page. The paper mentions right beneath the mast head in the first column of the paper, that it is available at $1 per year and that it is published every other Wednesday from Sandwich in Canada.

The poems, articles and short stories are all placed in moderate-sized font in columns that are very close together. On an average, there are 5 columns on a page, and there is no order to the poems or articles being on one page only. They are followed in succession, poem short story, articles, editorial, in no particular order.

The poem that will be considered for analysis in this paper has been published in the first column on the last page of the publication. It is flanked by a story in the next columns.

Summary of the Poem

The poem is titled the 'Genuine Prize Song for Jenny Lind' and is perfectly in context of the mission of the paper to help freed slaves lead a better life in Canada. The poem basically talks about the fairness that prevails in Canada, and in essence seeks to help African-Americans understand that it is not necessary to feel loyal for a country, which does not consider them in an equal footing, and by doing so makes them ignore any feelings of nationhood they might have for America, so that they are able to start better, free lives in Canada, which is a land that does not discriminate against slaves.

The poem starts with the poet saying that he is happy that he has come away from his home in the North of America, which indicates that the author was a freed slave, as slavery was abolished in the northern states after the civil war. (The Voice of the Fugitive)

The poem goes on to state that he now feels that he is standing on a "glorious land" that is the only place where truly free people exist. He indicates that this is a land that is free not only in spirit but also from greed, where people are not "sold for gold." The poet seems to be heaving a sigh of relief where he says that in Canada everyone faces up to the Sun and everyone is allowed to "stand erect," with there being no class distinction or any discriminatory practices that would make them wary of living a free life.

He goes on to indicate that the guilty in American eye are only those who are different in color, whereas in Canada those who have committed sin are punished. He indicates that the black despite having done nothing wrong and being innocent are punished.

He goes on to state sarcastically that the Blacks in the considerations of the white Americans are "flat nosed and born to the cat" therefore they can be treated in whichever way that then white please. The poet laments that his community members are treated as cat litter who's children are kicked away as unwanted kittens are.

The poem says that "But their lips if too full, and their hair curly wool, should have no child or wife of their own!" indicating, that they were being made to live like animals, only on the basis of their appearance.

The strategy of publishing papers to unite the community and in order to give hope to the slaves was especially suited to the Black community as reading newspapers was a part of everyday life for them, in fact in some instances they considered books to possess power beyond the influence they created with the written word. (Gundaker 494) This high status of books and reading in their lives is what contributed greatly to the freedom struggle, and is what helped them in the longer run to set them free and win equal rights.

The Black community rose to the challenge and many people raised their concerns and their hopes through publications. Among these voices was the voice of Henry Bibb who founded the 'Voice of The Fugitive Newspaper'. We will now go on to describe the role that the paper has played since its establishment and explains a poem called 'Genuine Prize Song for Jenny Lind' which seems to be the crux of all what the newspaper was established for.

The Voice of the Fugitive was founded by Henry Bibb, born as a slave in 1815. He later went on to become an author and a strong voice against slavery, working for abolition of slavery by giving lectures. He also sought to have the African community members to disassociate themselves with America, and focus on leading free lives.

Henry Bibb managed to flee to Detroit and become independent where he worked for the rights of slaves; however, the passing of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 had dangerous implications for freed slaves. This was because the act mandated that the slaves who had fled from their masters, if they were caught even in the northern states could be returned to their owners. This meant that living in Detroit he could be taken back to his masters, but this was not to be, as Henry, realizing the threat to his freedom, escaped to Canada. Even there, he continued to actively participate in the movement against slavery and established the 'Voice of the Fugitive' as a newspaper that would be a voice to the conditions of the Afro-Americans, and be a window to the lives of the slaves in America.

The paper was established with the sole objective of helping freed slaves and for those who were seeking freedom in Canada. Slavery was an issue that he had battled with all his life and he wrote extensively about his experiences in the paper as well as in some of the books he published such as his autobiography in which he detailed all the adventures that he had had in his life. The book titled, "Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Henry Bibb, an American Slave" was published in the same year that he established his abolitionist paper, 'The Voice of the Fugitive.'

The paper was printed every alternate week, and was sold at a minimal charge of $1 per year, as its main aim was to abolish slavery and help freed slaves connect to their near and dear ones. Bibb, through his own example strongly opined that the freed slaves should find their life in Canada, away from oppression and oppressive acts that hindered them from achieving their potential.

The paper also included articles and narratives that encouraged the refugee slaves from America to integrate in to the Canadian society and not segregate it in order to receive equal rights of citizenship.

Analysis of the poem

In light of the paper and a brief summary of the paper, the poem can be better analyzed in context. Through the words, the poem imbues a sense for the readers that life in America was so oppressive for the community, that they thought it better to disown it for a completely new land. The sense of loyalty towards USA is missing, as the black community's woes in America as highlighted.

Poems are a powerful medium to convey emotions, and as slavery was an emotional issue, and people had to be roused to understand, what was happening…

Sources Used in Document:


DeLombard, Jeanine Mary. "African-American Cultures of Print." Hall, David D. Cultures of Print. Boston: University of Massuchusetts, 1996. 360.

Gundaker, Grey. "Africans Americans, Print, and Practice." Gross, Robert A. And Mary Kelley. An Extensive Republic: Print, Culture, and Society in the New Nation, 1790-1840. North Carolina: UNC Press Books, 2010. 483-495.

The Voice of the Fugitive. 29 January 1851. 9 March 2012 .

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