Louisiana college’s book: poetry by 1800s free man of color

February 27, 2022 GMT

SHREVEPORT, La. (AP) — Centenary College of Louisiana has published the first complete collection of poetry by a free man of color who wrote in French for the nation’s first Black daily newspaper in the mid-1800s.

Adolph Duhart was “among many Creoles of color in New Orleans who dared to speak truth to power,” said Dana Kress, editor-in-chief of Centenary’s heritage language press, which recently published a book of poems by Duhart.

He said their works “have never received the attention they deserve because, although this is American literature, it was inaccessible to English-speaking scholars.”

Duhart wrote for several newspapers and magazines including La Tribune de la Nouvelle Orléans / The New Orleans Tribune, the nation’s first Black daily, Kress said.

Previous scholars have included some of Duhart’s poems in their collections, but the new book, “Tempêtes et Éclairs,” is the first to make them all available, according to a news release.


There are about 60 poems in the book published by Les Éditions Tintamarre, said Kress, who also is a French professor at Centenary.

“All of Duhart’s poetry was meant to inspire, elevate, and humanize those for whom he wrote,” Kress said in the news release. “Some of his poems are about family, and his public had sometimes never seen families like their own celebrated in verse in writing. Others are powerful social commentaries.”

Kress said about one-third of the poems could be considered political, including one about Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. It was published in New Orleans, a Confederate city, on April 25, 1865 — 10 days after the president’s death and 19 after Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Virginia.

However, Kress said in emailed comments, “the very act of a person of color writing and publishing poetry on any subject in this period should be considered political. It was a statement that ‘we are here and we are your equals.’”

All are in French, without translation.

“Many of the crown jewels of 19th century African-American literature are here in Louisiana, and they are in French!” said Kress.

Many of Duhart’s poems were found by an undergraduate from Austin, Texas who asked Kress for a research project in her first year at Centenary. He told Audrey Gibson, now a graduate student at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, about Duhart.

Gibson graduated in 2021, and did most of her research on Duhart during her final two and a half years. She searched in newspaper archives, in libraries’ microfilmed copies, in special collections at universities in New Orleans, and in books that had collected poetry by New Orleans’ Afro-Creole poets.


“It felt very urgent and important to find these materials so that Duhart’s work could live on and continue to be read today,” she said in the news release.

The COVID-19 pandemic made it difficult to get to archives, but people at the University of New Orleans and Tulane University helped find some poems. Many were on microfilmed copies of the newspapers that originally printed Duhart’s work. Some were in online databases of scanned newspapers.

Gibson also reviewed published and archival biographical information about Duhart’s life and work.

Among other things, she reported, birth certificate show that his pen name “Lélia” was his sister’s name rather than a daughter’s, as many scholars have said.