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Monday, February 22, 2016

The "Lancaster's Black Poet" Story

It was an ordinary day.  Reading about some of the events that will still take place in the final days of February dealing with the fact that this is Black History Month in the United States of America.  At one time the U.S. celebrated Black History Week during the second week of February.  That all started in 1926 when not only the U.S. celebrated the week, but Canada, Germany and the United Kingdom began to celebrate Negro History Week.  
Mr. Carter G. Woodson, Black History Month historian.
The person responsible for this celebration was historian Carter G. Woodson.  Mr. Woodson was known as the father of black history who was an author, journalist and the founder of the Association for the Study of African Life and History.  Mr. Woodson chose the 2nd week of February since it coincided with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.  He believed that these two brought an end to slavery.  He should have done some more research, since if it hadn't been for the urging of Thadeus Stevens, A Lancaster, PA resident, lawyer, member of the U.S. House of Representatives and the man whom Carol and I named our youngest son after, who knows what Lincoln might have done.  
President and Mrs. Ford presenting the Medal of Freedom to Jesse Owens.
Black History Week was intended to encourage teaching of black history among public school systems.  How successful it has been I was not able to determine.  Then in 1969 the black students at Kent State University in Ohio proposed expanding the week into a month and the university agreed to their proposal.  In 1976 the federal government officially recognized Black History Month in conjunction with our country's bicentennial celebration.  Finally, the United Kingdon began celebrating Black History Month in 1987 with Germany following in 1990 and Canada in 1995.  As for my home town of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, the local newspaper published a story a short time ago about Miss Lelia Miller being the first black to be recognized as a poet.  
Lancaster poet Miss Lelia Miller.
She was a grand-daughter of an African Negro who was brought to this country prior to the Civil War days and made a slave.  Her great grand-mother ran away from Maryland to Pennsylvania from slavery and settled in Little Britain township.  She died at the age of 125 years in Lancaster County.  Miss Miller was born at Nine Points.  Her grandparents were identified with the "underground railway" that furnished the means of escaping slavery.  Miss Miller's parents resided near Christiana where she lived.  At the age of 4 she composed her first poem.  Members of the black community told her it was a waste of her time to attempt to rise to heights of poetry, but she persisted and went to college at Oxford College in North Carolina.  She returned to Lancaster where she composed the following poem:  



Chasing a dream when of light
There's no gleam
Chasing a dream with a smile
With ever these purposes
As onward I go
To take over my dream after while.

Two of her brothers served in France during WWI and latter graduated from Howard University in 1918.  Miss Miller was a member of the Mount Zion AME Chruch in Atglen.  She died at the age of 77 according to her obituary in the January 18, 1966 Lancaster New Era.  So, during this final month of Black History Month, remembrances of a local black poet are in order.  May Lelia Miller's name and her poetry live on in history.  It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.

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