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How Phillis Wheatley captured the attention of the world - Charita Gainey

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In 1775, General George Washington received a poem from one of colonial America’s most famous writers. Its verses praised the burgeoning revolution, invoking the goddess of their new nation to aid the general’s cause. But this ode to liberty wasn’t written by some aloof aristocratic admirer. Its author was a young enslaved Black woman. Charita Gainey details the works of poet Phillis Wheatley.

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TED-Ed Animations feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Charita Gainey
  • Director Gavin Edwards, Movult
  • Narrator Christina Greer
  • Music Stephen LaRosa
  • Sound Designer Stephen LaRosa
  • Director of Production Gerta Xhelo
  • Producer Anna Bechtol
  • Associate Producer Sazia Afrin
  • Editorial Director Alex Rosenthal
  • Editorial Producer Dan Kwartler
  • Script Editor Iseult Gillespie
  • Fact-Checker Charles Wallace
Additional Resources for you to Explore
Phillis Wheatley was an enslaved African woman who was the first African American to publish a book of poetry in 1773. Her book, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, is the foundational text of the African American literary canon.

The Massachusetts Historical Society has a biography of Phillis Wheatley, a picture of her writing desk, and many original manuscripts of Wheatley’s poems published online.

Scipio Moorhead was an enslaved, young African artist who created the only known image of Phillis Wheatley that appears on the cover of her book. Wheatley wrote a poem about Moorhead whom she knew personally because he also lived in Boston. Contemporary African American artist, Kerry James Marshall, features Moorhead and Wheatley in his painting, Scipio Moorhead, Portrait of Himself, 1776.

Several African American poets have written about Phillis Wheatley. She is a recurring figure throughout African American literature. June Jordan wrote an essay and poem about Phillis Wheatley titled, “The Difficult Miracle of Black Poetry in America.” Jordan’s essay and poem marvel at the “difficult miracle” that was Phillis Wheatley and her poetry.

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Create and share a new lesson based on this one.

About TED-Ed Animations

TED-Ed Animations feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Charita Gainey
  • Director Gavin Edwards, Movult
  • Narrator Christina Greer
  • Music Stephen LaRosa
  • Sound Designer Stephen LaRosa
  • Director of Production Gerta Xhelo
  • Producer Anna Bechtol
  • Associate Producer Sazia Afrin
  • Editorial Director Alex Rosenthal
  • Editorial Producer Dan Kwartler
  • Script Editor Iseult Gillespie
  • Fact-Checker Charles Wallace

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