Albery Allson Whitman
Poet, minister, and orator Albery Allson Whitman was born into slavery in Hart County, Kentucky. His parents died prior to Emancipation, leaving him orphaned when he was 12 years old. Whitman held various manual jobs and worked as a schoolteacher. He published his first poetry collection upon enrolling at Wilberforce University, where he also met his mentor, the bishop Daniel Payne. By the age of 26 he had become a Wilberforce financial agent and fundraiser and an active pastor, establishing and leading congregations throughout the South and Midwest. Whitman struggled with alcoholism and illness and died of pneumonia.
Known as the “Poet Laureate of the Negro Race” during his lifetime, Whitman published books that were warmly received by African American readers and critics. Pervasive themes in his poetry include freedom and the representation of a multiethnic American identity. Whitman used a variety of complex rhyme and metrical schemes, leading the cohort of late-19th-century African American poets who composed in traditional verse.
Known for his epic-length work, Whitman published seven collections, including Not a Man, and Yet A Man (1877), The Rape of Florida (1884, later republished as Twasinta’s Seminoles), and An Idyl of the South: An Epic Poem in Two Parts (1901).