The Acquisitions Table: Clark, B. (Benjamin), Sen. The Past, Present and Future in Prose and Poetry

Clark, B. (Benjamin), Sen. The Past, Present and Future in Prose and Poetry. Toronto: Adam, Stevenson, & Co., 1867. BIB #565812

Benjamin Clark was born to emancipated African American parents in Maryland in 1801, and he died in Detroit in 1864. He married, had ten children, and lived with his family in Pennsylvania. He also established himself as a successful “blue dyer,” with real estate worth $1,000 and older sons established in trades, but also continued to write prose and poetry that was published in Black newspapers and periodicals.[1]

Clark contributed pieces throughout his life to Frederick Douglass’ Paper and the Weekly Anglo-African, all culminating in this posthumously published collection of his writings: The Past, Present and Future in Prose and Poetry (1867).

In three of his poems, Clark takes on a first-person voice not his own, essentially ventriloquizing the voice of a slave-catcher, a slaveholder, and a slave. “Be Joyful!,” the last poem in Clark’s book, is dedicated “to the first colored regiment of Michigan,” and in it he describes their goal: “To make our country what it should / Have always been of right, / A land of justice, equal laws, / And not of force and might.”

[1] Lorang, Elizabeth and R. J. Weir, ed. “”Will not these days be by thy poets sung”: Poems of the Anglo-African and National Anti-Slavery Standard, 1863–1864.” Scholarly Editing (2013)

Published by

Elizabeth Watts Pope

Curator of Books, American Antiquarian Society

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