James Madison Bell was an African-American poet, orator, and political activist who was involved in the abolitionist movement against slavery.
Bell was born in Gallipolis, Ohio on April 3, 1826. He lived in Ohio most of his life although he briefly resided in Canada and California before eventually returning back to Ohio.
Bell was called “The Bard of the Maumee.” He served as a steward for the African Methodist Episcopal Church, where he stressed the importance for black education and legal rights.
His poetry became popular and history shows that he was one of the best known black poets of the 19th century spilling over into the 20th. Much of his work was about conflict and social injustice. Examples of this type of poetry include Poem (about the assassination of Lincoln, 1865), The Day and the War (1864) and The Triumph of Liberty (1870). Yet he didn’t write exclusively about these subjects.
The First of August
by James Madison Bell
Hail! hail thou glorious first!
Proud day of Liberty,
Thy dawning wakes the burst
Of India’s jubilee;
And calls to mind that happy morn
When Freedom’s thousand sons were born.
That morn, when o’er the main
Bless’d Freedom’s angel flew,
And rent each galling chain,
And loud her tocsin blew;
When hoary age became a boy,
And every heart leaped up for joy.
Hail! hail thou glorious day,
We greet thy blest return,
With speech and gladsome lay,
And fervent hearts, that burn
To join with those amid the sea,
Whose songs and shouts are Liberty!
Speed, Lord, the glorious day,
When o’er our native land
Fond Liberty shall sway
Her sceptre of command;
And every yoke and galling chain,
Shall vanish ‘neath her peaceful reign.