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Tom Chaney: A. A. Whitman - Hart County Poet

Of Writers And Their Books: A. A. Whitman -- Hart County Poet. Tom repeats his very first column to celebrate Whitman, black history, and its four year anniversary. This column first appeared 15 February 2009.
The next earlier Tom Chaney column: Theatre on Hard Times in Horse Cave

By Tom Chaney

A. A. Whitman -- Hart County Poet

I was reminded a few days ago that readers of this column will suffer their fourth anniversary of exquisite torture this week. I decided for the first column to write of A. A. Whitman during Black History Month. It is appropriate to repeat that column [which was published 20 February 2005] now in celebration of Whitman, of black history, and of Of Writers and Their Books.

I was born in the Green River Country in Hart County. Kentucky, May 30th, 1851.
I was a slave until Emancipation.
My parents left me and went to the Good Land when I was yet a boy.
My chances for education have not been good.
In that matter, however, I have done what I could.
Thus begins the introduction to Not a Man and Yet a Man by America's foremost black poet of the Nineteenth Century. Largely neglected for most of the Twentieth Century, Albery Allson Whitman was once well-known for his long narrative poems celebrating the potential of the black man emerging from slavery.

Little is known about the location of Whitman's birth or the identity of the white folks who held title to him and to his parents, Caswell and Caroline Bronner Whitman. We know he was the middle child of a family of four sons and one daughter. He tells us in his poetry:
I never was a slave -- a robber took
My substance -- What of that? The law my rights --
And that? I still was free and had my book --
All nature. And I learned from during heights
How silence is majestic, and invites
In admiration far beholding eyes!
And heaven taught me, with her starry nights,
How deepest speech unuttered often lies,
And that Jehovah's lessons mostly he implies.
Occasionally in his poetry he mentions personal matters and from the poems and his prefaces we may draw a reasonably clear picture of the country of his birth.

By the time he was 22 Whitman had published two volumes of poetry: Essays on the Ten Plagues and Other Miscellaneous Poems, before 1873, and Leelah Misled, published in Elizabethtown in 1873. By the mid-1870's he evidently was located in the area of Zanesville, Ohio. In 1877 he published Not a Man and Yet a Man written as a fund-raising project for Wilberforce University where he evidently studied.

Whitman had become a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. In William J. Simmons volume Men of Mark, a dictionary of black biography, Whitman is allotted a page and a half and the publication of two of his shorter poems.

Whitman's poetry is largely out of print these days. Occasionally one finds an old volume of his work, or a mention of him in an account of Nineteenth Century literature.

February is Black History Month. It is appropriate to recall that Hart County gave the nation one of its best early black poets.

The city of Munfordville also has acknowledged the county's native son.

Should you drive out Kentucky highway 357 and turn left on Line Street, you will come to A. A. Whitman Lane. Take a right and Whitman Lane leads you to the Hart County Library. Wander in and discover other books and writers and poems.

Take a moment before you enter to read the Kentucky Historical Marker dedicated to A. A. Whitman. Hart County does pay homage to its own.

Editorial Note: Later in 2009 Tom reviewed a new collection At the Dusk of Dawn: Selected Poetry and Prose of Albery Allson Whitman. Edited by Ivy G. Wilson, Northeastern University Press, Boston.

Tom Chaney can be found telling stories, planning his next meal, and occasionally selling books at
Box 73 / 111 Water Street
Horse Cave, Kentucky 42749
Email: Tom Chaney

This story was posted on 2014-02-16 02:55:18
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