Oct. 15—PLATTSBURGH — On Monday evening, Dr. Roger Reeves, author of "King Me" and "Best Barbarian," is the 38th featured Black Poetry Day poet at SUNY Plattsburgh.
The 2022 National Book Award Poetry finalist will be the first to do so on the officially adopted day in New York State.
Black Poetry Day was created by Plattsburgh resident Stanley A. Ransom to honor the contributions Black poets have made to American life and culture, and to honor Jupiter Hammon, first Black poet in America to publish his own verse.
It also honors Phillis Wheatley (ca. 1753-1784), first female Black poet to publish her book of poetry, "Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral by Phillis Wheatley. Negro Servant to Mr. John Wheatley, of Boston, in New England." Printed in London, 1773.
Ransom founded the event when he was director of the Huntington Public Library and had published his first book on Hammon.
"In Plattsburgh, the librarians and poets were delighted to hear that the state legislature in New York has come together over this past year to certify that Oct. 17 should be considered Black Poetry Day in all of New York State," he said.
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Hammon's first poem, "An Evening Thought," was published in 1761, when he was nearly 50 years old.
He was born on October 17, 1711, the son of Obium (ca.1668-1757) and Rose (ca. 1681-1745). He had a brother, Obediah (ca. 1715-1755).
His paternal grandparents were Tammero (ca. 1640-1690s) and Oyou (ca. 1640-1690s).
Hammon lived at "Henry Lloyd Manor House (built ca. 1711), the first seat of the Manor of Queens Village (also known as Lloyd Manor or Lloyd Neck). Henry Lloyd (1685 — 1763) recorded Hammon's birthday in a ledger book along with births, and some deaths, of other children born to enslaved parents at the Manor," according to preservationlongisland.org
"Hammon's writing skills are especially noteworthy since learning to read was much different than learning to write during the 18th century. Writing required special supplies like parchment and ink, which were costly and difficult to acquire. For these reasons, writing was often limited to the wealthy elite, like the Lloyds. Nevertheless, Hammon learned to write and became an accomplished author."
On Feb. 14, and June 1,2022, the state Assembly and Senate respectively adopted resolutions proclaiming Oct. 17, 2022 as Black Poetry Day in New York State.
The passage of these bills and the action of Gov. Kathy Hochul officially created Black Poetry Day in New York State.
The passage of these bills represents the work of Ransom and Dr. Arthur L. Friedman of Nassau Community College, who worked with legislators in support of the Resolutions.
Legislators in the North Country were Assemblyman D. Billy Jones, and Senator Dan Stec. Legislators on Long Island were Speaker Carl Heastie, and Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins. Senator Kevin Thomas and Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages introduced the bills.
The New York Library Association, at its November 2021 Annual Conference endorsed the continuation of Black Poetry Day in New York State.
"We are hoping this will also encourage other Black poets to come forward to speak their pieces, and especially we're looking forward to having Roger Reeves do his program (7 p.m.) at Plattsburgh State at Krinovitz Recital Hall on Monday, Black Poetry Day," Ransom said.
In 1970 and 1983, Ransom published his books: "America's First Negro Poet, Jupiter Hammon of Long Island," containing all the works found up to that time.
His new book on Hammon, "America's First Black Poet, Jupiter Hammon of Long Island," was published in 2020 and is available at Bookburgh at Champlain Centre.