Thursday, December 11, 2008

Phillis Wheatley & the Freedom Galleries

"I begin all my African American Literature classes with Phillis Wheatley’s poem, 'On Being Brought from Africa to America.'” explained my colleague Anushiya Ramaswamy who served as a project planner for the Freedom Galleries. "It is a short, argumentative piece that describes Wheatley’s understanding of Christianity."

She went on to explain:

I pass out a copy of the poem, and we spend the whole first day of class discussing Wheatley’s word choices (why does she call Africa a “pagan” land), the references she makes to the Biblical character Cain, her white audience to whom the poem is clearly addressed, and the crux of her argument. The first writing assignment for the course is a response from the class on the issues Wheatley raises. What has struck me the most is how many students, without fail, argue that without the institution of slavery, Africans would not have become Christian. All through the semester then, I work hard to show that this is also one of those pernicious ideas that propped up that peculiar institution for centuries.

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