Honoring our Legacy: Phillis Wheatley

Phillis Wheatley, a poetess and change agent, was one of the first African Americans to publish a book while enslaved and was the second woman to ever had published a book during the 1700s.

 She was the standard. Wheatley set the standard for what could be produced from a Black person who obtained an education, showing the rest of the world the intellectual abilities of a person of color. 

Born in 1753 in Senegal/Gambia, Phillis was 8 when she was kidnapped and brought to the Americas. Unlike a quarter of the cargo that came on that ship, “The Phillis,”  she was sold to a man named John Wheatley. He purchased her as a companion for his wife Susana. Being so young, she adopted into the family as more than a servant, resulting in her taking their last name. 

Most children during that time were not afforded the same amount of care or attention in Boston.. Wheatley’s life was an anomaly, considering that African Americans were discouraged and threatened while wanting to learn to read and write. However, when given the opportunity, Wheatley absorbed all she could, fast and well. 

 Wheatley published her first poem; “An Elegiac Poem, on the Death of the Celebrated Divine George Whitefield” at the age of 13. This publication opened the eyes and minds of people all over, showcasing the brilliant mind behind these words that painted an elegant image from an enslaved Black woman. 

I am elated to know there was a woman in history connected to my being here, that contributed to the furthering of the English language, and poetry. As an individual, who should not have been able to understand the language at all. I am proud to learn of women such as Phillis Wheatley, a standard of defying odds and surpassing boundaries. 

Wheatley’s determination led her to become the second woman in America to publish a book at all. Wheatley held a position of greatness, amongst people who are afforded better opportunities than she. 

As we progress through this Black History month, we recognize greatness is hanging high above the places we reside day in and day out. Black history is woven into all the history in America. Most want us to think we are to be celebrated only during the shortest month of the year. This story is to honor their importance now. Taking the time to learn their stories, so that we may take pride in knowing these are more than just names of buildings, or landmarks to tell our friends where to meet up. 

Phillis Wheatley, Mary Bethune, Harriet Tubman and so many more endured a life unimaginable so that we, Black collegiate scholars, may be able to bask in the opportunities of this country. Our history has not just begun, but the future history of a nation of African Americans, decedents of slaves, activists, revolutionists, and educators have. We say thank you by honing this power and forging a path never seen before, done like the millions before us.