Poems by a Black Man Volume II


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When the victors write the history, the defeated get short-shrift. In the process, at least as far as African-American history focus is concerned, so much of the black presence both in the Americas and in Europe has been left out, as we saw in my columns about the first African American, the free black conquistador Juan Garrido, who arrived in Florida in , and the first black explorer of the American Southwest, Esteban, who arrived in Galveston in I first learned about him through an essay that Arthur Schomburg published in Charles Johnson's famous Harlem Renaissance anthology, Ebony and Topaz, published in Black people lived in Spain before the first African slaves arrived in North America in ?

As Ivana Elbl observes in "The Volume of the Early Atlantic Slave Trade, ," in the Journal of African History, "in the opening period of the Atlantic slave trade the Europeans are estimated to have purchased almost , African slaves," and many of them ended up living in Portugal and Spain, in places like Sevilla, Granada and Valencia, all of which had a relatively large population of black slaves.

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And by the time the first 20 Angolans landed in Virginia, almost , Africans had already arrived in the New World, virtually all enslaved in Brazil and South America only were sent to the British Caribbean in this period. In fact, to put the significance of this figure in a bit more perspective, as David Eltis and David Johnson write in the Atlas of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade , as many slaves had already arrived in Latin America before as would arrive in the United States during the entire course of the slave trade!

Since well over , Africans had already been shipped to Europe by this time, the black presence has a much longer and deeper history in both Europe and in Latin America than it does in the United States, a fact that surprises most Americans. I cite these figures so that we can begin to understand that Juan Latino was not walking around 16th-century Europe or Spain or even Granada as a solitary black man; he was a part of a community, composed of slaves and former slaves.

But even among the free black community, he was exceptional in how high he rose in social status, and the unprecedented success of his academic career. His success was so rare, in fact, that his master and friend, the Duke de Sessa, is said frequently to have commented of him that "my black is as rare on this earth as the Phoenix.


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The three were so unusual in Spanish society that they were the subject of an essay published as early as in Granada, according to Glyn Redworth. That there were free black men and women living in both Spain and Portugal in the 16th century is a testament to the fluidity of status that the Spanish Crown would later extend to Africans enslaved in the British colonies of Carolina and Georgia — that is, if they could escape to the Spanish colony of Florida, where they would be free.

Those freed slaves created the all-black settlement and a militia at Fort Mose in Florida in Nevertheless, lest we romanticize black slavery in Spain, these three members of the Spanish elite in the mids were anomalies, although Spain — given its proximity to Africa and the fact that the Moors ruled it for more than eight centuries — was probably more mixed ethnically than any other place in Europe.


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According to an ecclesiastical census taken in , just four years after Latino had received his master of arts degree, there were adult slaves living in the city of Granada, out of a population of 43, people, or 2 percent of the total population, according to James Casey in Family and Community in Early Modern Spain : The Citizens of Granada, And according to James Sweet at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, in an email, "nearly all of these slaves came from Africa — 'Berbery' and 'Guinea'. Although Juan Latino was quite well-known in his hometown, he would be immortalized in Spanish literature by none other than Miguel Cervantes, the author of the most famous work of Spanish literature, the novel Don Quixote , published in Cervantes and Latino had a certain connection, through the famous Battle of Lepanto in , which Latino would memorialize in his greatest work of poetry.

Unlike Latino, Cervantes actually fought at the Battle of Lepanto, sailing on board the Marquesa, receiving three wounds from gunfire, one of which led to permanent paralysis of his left hand. He was freed when his family, with help from the Trinitarian friars, paid a ransom. Spratlin noted in his pioneering book Juan Latino: Slave and Humanist, published in , Cervantes cites Latino as an example of the old linguistic convention that his novel intended to displace; Latino, for him, stood for Spanish poets who wrote in Latin, rather than in vernacular Spanish, which wasn't judged sophisticated or complex enough to be the language of great art.

In one of his novel's epigraphs, a magus or wizard named "Urganda the Unknown" instructs Cervantes to avoid the Latinate diction of "el negro Juan Latino," and instead tell his tale in vernacular Spanish, which of course Cervantes famously did, just as Dante had done with the Italian vernacular in the early 14th century. Curiously enough, it is quite possible that Phillis Wheatley knew of the existence of her black poetic predecessor, since she was given a copy of Tobias Smollett's English translation of Don Quixote by the Earl of Dartmouth, during her visit to London in the summer of , just before her own book of poems was published there.

Juan de Sessa — he changed his name to Latino when he was a student — lived roughly between and Although he claimed to have been born in Ethiopia in part to distinguish himself from the Moors from North Africa, who were being persecuted as Baltasar Fra-Molinero observes in "Juan Latino and Racial Difference," in Black Africans in Renaissance Europe , some scholars argue that he was born in Baena, Spain, son of slaves said to be from "Guinea" although "Guinea," like "Ethiopia," was a European euphemism for any site in sub-Saharan Africa.

Juan would claim, in a poem, that the two were breast-fed with the same mother's milk. According to legend, Juan de Sessa was the young duke's page and accompanied him to his Latin classes taught by Pedro de Mota, held in the Cathedral of Granada, carrying his books to class. Somehow, the slave was able to study with his master, and excelled so much that he took the name "Juan Latino.

Juan married a Spanish noblewoman named Ana Carlobal.


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Their romance, apparently not initially approved by Ana's father one source, Ambrosio Salazar, as quoted in Spratlin's book, says their marriage eventually killed the father , has become the stuff of legend, sometimes compared to that of Othello and Desdemona. The couple had four children, two girls and two boys. Latino was extraordinarily well-educated, even compared to a white Spaniard of his day.

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He received his first degree, the bachillerato, from the University of Granada in , and two further degrees, the licenciatura in and finally a master of arts in , writes J. Ten years later, Archbishop Pedro Guerrero appointed Latino as the professor of Latin grammar at the Cathedral of Granada, a position, it seems, that he held until his death, although he is reported to have gone blind at some point.

Juan Latino was the first black person to become a faculty member at any European institution of higher learning. He published two books of poetry. The first one, published in and entitled Ad Catholicum , "contains epigrams in praise of King Philip of Spain," writes Seo, as well as "poems on the relations between the Spanish Crown and Pope Pius V, and a hexameter epic in two [parts] on the battle of Lepanto, entitled The Austriad.

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Latino also published a pamphlet in , but no copies have been found. Both of his volumes of poetry are exceedingly rare: Only five copies of his first book, and only two copies of his second book are listed in World Cat, the global catalog of holdings of books in libraries. First editions of both books have pride of place in my own library. The Austriad, Latino's most famous work, consists of two volumes of and 1, verses of Latin poetry. It is a commemoration of the naval Battle of Lepanto, in Greece, on Oct. The cashier says, Sir, she was next.

When he turns to you he is truly surprised. She is married to the photographer and filmmaker John Lucas , who is white. Rankine seems comfortable in her black and white communities. But she says it has become her mission to document the wide gulf which still seems to exist between the two. She writes the poetry; her husband makes a short film to accompany the text. Police sirens can be heard in the background as Rankine reads:. I knew whatever was in front of me was happening and then the police vehicle came to a screeching halt in front of me like they were setting up a blockade.

Everywhere were flashes, a siren sounding and a stretched-out roar. Get on the ground.

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Get on the ground now. Then I just knew. And you are not the guy and still you fit the description because there is only one guy who is always the guy fitting the description. Rankine went to Ferguson, MO in August shortly after the death of Michael Brown where she listened to people who lived in his neighborhood, collecting material for future poems. She says she thought that would be the beginning of something and that she would keep going.

Perhaps, she muses, it was because she spent the last several months waiting, hoping for some justice. It builds up in the self. You can watch on our Ustream channel at 6 p. EST or check your local listings. A man knocked over her son in the subway.

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You feel your own body wince. Yes, and you want it to stop, you want the child pushed to the ground to be seen, to be helped to his feet, to be brushed off by the person that did not see him, has never seen him, has perhaps never seen anyone who is not a reflection of himself.

The beautiful thing is that a group of men began to stand behind me like a fleet of bodyguards, she says, like newly found uncles and brothers. Support Provided By: Learn more.

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Poems by a Black Man Volume II Poems by a Black Man Volume II
Poems by a Black Man Volume II Poems by a Black Man Volume II
Poems by a Black Man Volume II Poems by a Black Man Volume II
Poems by a Black Man Volume II Poems by a Black Man Volume II
Poems by a Black Man Volume II Poems by a Black Man Volume II
Poems by a Black Man Volume II Poems by a Black Man Volume II
Poems by a Black Man Volume II Poems by a Black Man Volume II

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