07 September 2010

Voices and Soul

7 September 2010

by Justice Putnam
Black Kos, Tuesday's Chile, Poetry Editor

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, though born a free woman in the time of slavery, was nonetheless, a fierce advocate for abolition and equal rights. She was part of the Free Produce Movement, a boycott of goods made with slave labor. "Free" meant, "not enlsaved" and "Produce" was any good or crop made or harvested by human effort. Some have argued how effective the movement was; given that slavery existed for almost a century from the movement's inception. But whether a boycott is against "Blood Diamonds", or "Sweat Shop Fabric", an individual stand, indeed, carries great power. It brings about irrevocable change; like waves wearing away rock along the coast line. When asked by the landed gentry of the times, why she would boycott goods made by her "people", she insisted that what she owned was Free; that it was manufactured by men and women of their own Free Will, who were paid an honest wage for an honest day's work. She insisted that what she owned was not extracted by the whip and the lash, by the tearing apart of families, flesh and the Soul. She insisted that what she owned was truly from:

Free Labor

I wear an easy garment,
O’er it no toiling slave
Wept tears of hopeless anguish,
In his passage to the grave.

And from its ample folds
Shall rise no cry to God,
Upon its warp and woof shall be
No stain of tears and blood.

Oh, lightly shall it press my form,
Unladen with a sigh,
I shall not ‘mid its rustling hear,
Some sad despairing cry.

This fabric is too light to bear
The weight of bondsmen’s tears,
I shall not in its texture trace
The agony of years.

Too light to bear a smother’d sigh,
From some lorn woman’s heart,
Whose only wreath of household love
Is rudely torn apart.

Then lightly shall it press my form,
Unburden’d by a sigh;
And from its seams and folds shall rise,
No voice to pierce the sky,

And witness at the throne of God,
In language deep and strong,
That I have nerv’d Oppression’s hand,
For deeds of guilt and wrong.

-- Frances Ellen Watkins Harper

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