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In this chapter on the poetry of George Moses Horton, the local expands to encompass not only the city of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, but also the states of North Carolina and Virginia. This chapter shows how the 1831 Nat Turner insurrection and its aftermath profoundly shaped the enslaved Horton’s later poetry.
Matt Sandler argues that not only did African American poets write “in Romantic revolutionary moods” at mid-century, but they used the lyric, in particular, to bridge divisions within and between the abolition movement and enslaved and free people. For writers like Joshua McCarter Simpson, James Monroe Whitfield, Frances Harper, and George Moses Horton, the lyric’s amenity to both contemplation and public performance was generically useful for the deliberations on and challenges to liberal individualism they posed. These African American poets complicated the lyric’s mechanics and capacities in ways that turned its interior deliberations to revolutionary aims and “claims about the place of Black life in American history.” Overall, Sandler underscores, lyric poetry, perhaps more than any other genre, “moved across the oral/print binary” and likewise moved across the color line as well as among abolitionist, free status, fugitive, and enslaved communities and groups to facilitate coalitions. Provocatively, this made the lyric what Sandler calls “the medium of the conspiracy.”
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