During this year’s Black History Month, it’s important to remember Maryland’s own history—and the history of America as a whole.

Maryland, nicknamed, “Little America,” has been powerfully shaped by the efforts of African-American Marylanders such as abolitionists Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass, the first African-American Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall, jazz legends Ellis Larkins and Eubie Blake, and civil rights leader Lillie May Carroll Jackson—known as the “mother of the civil rights movement” and pioneer of the non-violent resistance tactic later used by Martin Luther King Jr.

Literary history, as well, would not be the same without the work of Maryland’s African-American essayists, journalists, poets, and novelists. Here are a few notable and indelible black Maryland writers.

1. Lucille Clifton, 1936-2010. Though born in New York, Clifton was a poet and educator who lived in Baltimore, was a distinguished professor of humanities at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, and was the poet laureate of Maryland from 1979 to 1985. In addition, she was twice nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in poetry.

Her first work was 1969’s “Good Times,” a highly influential poetry collection, and in the ‘70s she wrote an acclaimed series of children’s books about the life of a young African-American boy. In 1980, Clifton’s “Two-Headed Woman” won the Juniper Prize for its celebration of the black female body as transgressive and mythically powerful.

2. John Edward Bruce, 1856-1924. Bruce was born to enslaved parents in Piscataway before escaping with his mother to Washington, D.C. to pursue an education.

He was a historian, writer, journalist, and Civil Rights activist. He founded numerous news publications along the East Coast, the first being 1879’s Argus Weekly, which advocated passionately for the advancement of African-Americans.

Bruce also gave a series of lectures in the 1880s addressing lynching and the rights of black citizens.

In 1890, he joined the Afro-American League, the first organized black Civil Rights group in the nation, becoming its president in 1898.

3. Frances Harper, 1825-1911. Harper—not only a poet and novelist, but also an outspoken abolitionist and suffragist—was born in Baltimore to free parents.

Over the course of her literary career, she published groundbreaking short stories, novels, and poetry that dealt with the prevalent social issues that plagued her era. Her story, “The Two Offers,” was published in 1859, making her the first black woman to publish a short story.

Her 1872 “Sketches of Southern Life” details the hardships faced by recently freed black people in the South. In 1858, she wrote her most famous poem, the chilling and vivid “Bury Me in a Free Land.

4. Pauli Murray, 1910-1985. Born in Baltimore, Murray became a civil rights activist, women’s rights activist, lawyer,  and author. In 1977, she became the first black woman to be ordained as an Episcopal priest.

In addition to her trailblazing legal work, Murray wrote two autobiographies and a 1970 collection of poetry called “Dark Testament and Other Poems.”

Her first autobiography, “Proud Shoes,” traces her family’s convoluted racial origins, and it was highly praised by the New York Times and other publications. Her second memoir, “Song in a Weary Throat: An American Pilgrimage,” was published posthumously in 1987 and won several awards.

The Elm

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