Tag Archives: Frances Watkins Harper

Spring watch

A poem by Frances Watkins Harper:


Welcome children of the Spring,
   In your garbs of green and gold,
Lifting up your sun-crowned heads
   On the verdant plain and wold.

As a bright and joyous troop
   From the breast of earth ye came
Fair and lovely are your cheeks,
   With sun-kisses all aflame.

In the dusty streets and lanes,
   Where the lowly children play,
There as gentle friends ye smile,
   Making brighter life’s highway

Dewdrops and the morning sun,
   Weave your garments fair and bright,
And we welcome you to-day
   As the children of the light.

Children of the earth and sun.
   We are slow to understand
All the richness of the gifts
   Flowing from our Father’s hand.

Published in Poems by Frances Watkins Harper, 1895. Complete book at Project Gutenberg.

While searching for poetry by Unitarians and Universalists, I came across “Dandelions.” Even though Frances Harper uses late 19th C. American poetic conventions which may sound dated to our ears, her images and her thinking captured my attention. I liked the image of “Where the lowly children play/ There as gentle friends ye smile”; which is both profoundly egalitarian, while also in the context of the poem perhaps offering an exegesis of Mark 10.13-16 where Jesus befriends children.

And I particularly liked the image of humanity she offers in the fifth and sixth stanzas, when she calls us human beings “the children of the light. / Children of the earth and sun.” Those two lines alone make the poem for me.

This being the week when dandelions are beginning to appear widely in New Bedford, I thought I’d post the poem here as a sort of meditation on the season.

More research needed

In tonight’s class for the Underground Railroad Tour Guide training at the New Bedford Historical Society, our teacher Joan Beauboin turned to me and said, “Reverent Harper [I can’t get her to call me “Dan”], you’ll be interested to know that Reverend William Jackson was converted to Unitarianism when — what was her name, now, something Watkins Harper….”

Surprised, I said, “Frances Watkins Harper came to New Bedford?”

Frances Harper was a well-known African American woman who joined the Unitarian church in Philadelphia in 1870, having been attracted to Unitarianism by the many Unitarian abolitionists she had met. Rev. William Jackson was the African American minister of the Second and Salem Baptist churches in New Bedford, known as the fugitive slave’s churches.

“Indeed she did,” said Joan Beauboin. “And she managed to convince William Jackson that he was really a Unitarian.”

Still surprised, I said, “But which church did he join? He didn’t join First Unitarian, did he?” In the second half of the 19th C., the Unitarian church in New Bedford had many of the most powerful and influential and wealthy white New Bedfordites as members; it was very much a white church.

“Well, I don’t know if he actually joined the church,” she admitted. “Perhaps he just considered himself a Unitarian.”

I find it hard to believe that socially-conscious First Unitarian Church would have allowed an African American to rent a pew or otherwise become a formal member. But even if Rev. William Jackson wasn’t a member of First Unitarian, he would have been the most prominent person of color in 19th C. New Bedford to have called himself a Unitarian. This is definitely going to call for more research on my part….