October 3, 2011

Timothy Thomas Fortune: clime of my birth

Born enslaved in Florida on October 3, 1856, Timothy Thomas and his family later added the last name "Fortune" after emancipation. T. Thomas Fortune, as he called himself, took a series of jobs, including a political page, post office worker, printer's devil, and teacher. Throughout, he was always afflicted with what he called "the book learning fever." Self-educated for most of his life, Fortune eventually attended Howard University and became a journalist.

Fortune became an advocate of civil rights, working closely with Booker T. Washington and others as a ghost writer and speech writer. He published scholarly works like Black and White: Land, Labor, and Politics (1885) and The Negro in Politics (1895). In 1905, he published a book of poems, Dreams of Life. The book includes several romantic poems, nature poems, and poems dedicated to famous figures (including Abraham Lincoln and Edgar Allan Poe); many are sonnets. This one is "The Clime of My Birth":

Oh, take me again to the clime of my birth,
The dearest, the fairest, to me on the earth,
The clime where the roses are sweetest that bloom,
And nature is bathed in the rarest perfume!

Where the songs of the birds awake us at morn
With a thrill of delight and pleasure new born;
For the mocking bird there is loudest in hymn,
With notes ever changing, none fettering him.

When the hills of the North are shrouded in snow,
When the winds of Winter their fiercest do blow—
Then take me again to the clime of my birth,
Dear Florida—dearest to me on the earth.

*For background on this post, I consulted African American Lives (2004), edited by Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham.

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