On MLK Day this year, many BJU students volunteered in the nearby community in various outreaches, one of which was at the Phillis Wheatley Community Center in Greenville.
Since BJU students just helped out at this center, we thought it appropriate to give a little more information about who this woman was.
“Where e’er Columbia spreads her swelling Sails: To every Realm shall Peace her Charms display, and Heavenly Freedom spread her gold Ray.”
Phillis Wheatley wrote these words when America had just started its journey as an independent nation.
Full of hope, Wheatley envisioned a country of peace and God-ordained freedom. And yet, despite these beautiful lines, Wheatley was not born in America nor considered by many to be an American.
Slave sellers brought Wheatley to America when she was about 7. They sold her for next to nothing, glad to get anything for the girl too weak for labor in the South.
Bought by a Boston family who noticed her intellect, Wheatley learned to read and write along with learning arithmetic and other subjects.
At 18, Wheatley had written enough poems to publish a book. But she was unable to find a willing publisher in the colonies. So Wheatley travelled to England where her first book, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, was published in 1773.
After the Revolutionary War, Wheatley married John Peters and amassed enough writings for a second book, but she ran into the same problem of finding a willing publisher.
In 1784, while her husband was incarcerated for debt, Wheatley died, leaving her poetry that rang with hope for her country’s future, a country that didn’t publish her first book of selected poems until two years after her death and one that never printed her second.