Header image  
    Table of Contents
Marilyn Nelson

From Senecca Village

The imagined lives of men, women, and children who lived in Manhattan’s first significant community of African-American property owners. Seneca Village existed from 1825–1857 and was razed for the creation of Central Park.


Thompson and Seaman Vows, African Union Church

(ca. 1847)


Miss Charlotte Thompson, daughter of Ada
Thompson of Seneca and the late John,
and Timothy James Seaman, son
of the late Nancy Seaman, on Sunday.
Reverend Rush performed the ceremony.
The bride (24) was educated
by a literate friend, and by seeing
the African Theatre Company’s
productions of “Macbeth” and “Richard III.”
She teaches in Colored School #3.
Her father was a slave. Her mother, freed
by a clause in her late mistress’s will,
sews and sells exquisite lace lingerie.
The bridegroom (26) cannot read or write,
but ciphers and is a skilled carpenter.
His mother was slaved to an early death.
She told him he was descended from kings.


Words and Whispers

(Address delivered by Frederick Douglass ca. 1848)


A battle won is easily described;
the moral growth of a great nation requires
description and reflection, to be seen.

Hey, that’s MINE!

A little learning is a dangerous thing;
the want of learning a calamity.

You better give it back!

The life of a nation can be secure
only while it is virtuous and true.

I MEAN it!

America has been false to the past,
false to the present, and solemnly binds
herself to be false to the future, too.

Give it back!

No harvest without plowing up the ground;
no rain without a rumble of dark clouds.

Oh, yeah?

It is easier to build strong children
than to piece back together broken men.

He started it!!

For he who sows the wind reaps the whirlwind.



Little Box


      A female still born child of Egbert
           Stairs (colored) & Catherine Cochran
                 his wife (white) was buried in All Angels’
churchyard, November 18, 1849


Someone has died, who will never see the black
joylight expand in her mother’s blue eyes.
Who will never grasp a pinky, nor be danced
up, down and around and lullabied all night.
Someone who will never come to realize
that her Dada’s palms aren’t dirty, they’re just brown.
Who made HER mother, HIM father, then broke their hearts.
Who is their shooting star, glimpsed only once.
Someone who will never laugh, or play, or care…

Praying that little box into the earth,
Rev. Peters asks forgiveness for his faint faith.
He thinks of the life of pain Someone was spared.