National Black Poetry Day – an unofficial holiday – has been celebrated in various ways in elementary and secondary schools, colleges and libraries and in other community settings throughout the United States.
Stanley A. Ransom, from Winsted, Connecticut – while serving as director of Huntington Public Library on Long Island – became interested in Jupiter Hammon. He edited the book America’s First Negro Poet: Jupiter Hammon of Long Island, the complete writings of the poet. Concerned that there were no celebrations to honor the contributions African Americans have made to American life and culture, he also proposed National Black Poetry Day in honor of Hammon's birthday.
The book received a Certificate of Commendation from the American Association for State and Local History. A second edition was released in 1983, and his third iteration is America's First Black Poet: Jupiter Hammon of Long Island.
In a Press-Republican interview with Ransom, it was stated:
“I heard about this person who lived 5 miles north of Huntington, in Lloyd’s Neck,” he said. “Henry Lloyd was a British merchant back in the 1600s and 1700s. He bought the whole area of the peninsula of Lloyd’s Neck.”
Lloyd formed Queen’s Village and owned eight enslaved people of African descent.
“He and his other partners also owned Shelter Island between the forks of Long Island,” Stan said. “Originally, it was a supply station for crops to furnish the slaves and owners in Barbados where the sugarcane came from.”
Some of the slaves went to Shelter Island to grow crops on the 3,000 acres there, and some were transported to Lloyd’s neck to develop that area.
“Among the people that went to Lloyd’s Neck were the parents of Jupiter Hammon,” Stan said.
Ransom's purpose for the day was “to recognize the contribution of Black poets to American life and culture and to honor Jupiter Hammon, first Black in America to publish his own verse.”
Oregon initiated a bill to be considered by the state legislature to make Black Poetry Day a state holiday.
When Stanley Ransom relocated to Plattsburgh, he continued the celebration. Although it is celebrated all over New York, it has yet to be formally proclaimed a state holiday.
SUNY Plattsburgh began inviting noted Black poets to its campus. In 1985, the African-American poet Gwendolyn Brooks spoke in honor of Jupiter Hammon's contribution to American culture. Other poets who have visited in the past for Black Poetry Day include Nikki Giovanni, Lucille Clifton, Ntozake Shange, Derek Walcott, Michael Harper and Yusef Komunyakaa. Stanley Ransom serves as a member of the college's Black Poetry Day Committee.
Leah Marché, an Arizona-based producer and curator of performance poetry and co-founder of BlackPoet Ventures, secured the domain name for Black Poetry Day. A celebration on October 17, in association with Black Horizons Festival and JAZZmeetsPOETRY series, took place at The Nash Jazz Club honoring the Dudley Randall anthology The Black Poets. The event included legendary musician and Harlem Renaissance artist Charles Lewis.
An official logo was created. The logo includes the Adinkra symbol MATE MASIE, meaning "What I hear, I keep." It is a West African symbol of wisdom, knowledge and prudence. The implied meaning of the phrase "mate masie" is "I understand." Understanding means wisdom and knowledge. It also represents the prudence of taking into consideration what another person has said.
In honor of Jupiter Hammon, the planet Jupiter is part of the logo. The fifth planet from the Sun, Jupiter is the largest in the Solar System. Jupiter is a planet of plenty, tolerant and expansive, seeking insight through knowledge. A planet of broader purpose, reach and possibility. One of Jupiter's most famous features is the Great Red Spot.
Black Horizons Festival will celebrate Black Poetry Day in the Valley of the Sun and in downtown Phoenix, Arizona, with a multiple-week tribute to Ntozake Shange, in commemoration of her October 18th birthday and the one-year anniversary of her death, October 27th.
A launch celebration of BlackPoetryDay.com will take place October 17th.
This year will mark the 50th year since National Black Poetry Day was initiated by Stanley Ransom, and will serve as the celebration of the official website and campaign to establish an organized platform for National Black Poetry Day.