Quote and Credit

Quote and Credit


Dave the Slave / My Favorite African-American Poet is a Potter from South Carolina named Dave

It's been a long time since I owned a piece of pottery made by Dave the Slave, but I can show you a picture of it. Doesn't look like much, I know, but you should see it in the collection it lives in now. A brown jug with the initials "LM" inscribed in the clay, salt-glazed. It holds a few gallons of water, but I never put any in it. I was made around 1840 in South Carolina when Dave was owned by Lewis Miles, he being the "LM" of course. Dave did the pot with his huge hands and he signed it with his owner's initials. I paid more for that piece of pottery than Mr. Miles paid for Dave.

The Jug was likely made to store or carry foodstuffs. Pickles maybe, or chunks of meat. They were made thick and baked to be strong enough to last a trip on your wagon as you skirted holes in the road. That this jug has lasted some 150 years is testimony to Dave's skills.

So the Poet in the post title? See, another thing about this jug is that it's maker, Dave the Slave, could both read and write at a time in South Carolina history when Black Men were forbidden to be taught either of those skills. He not only wrote his owner's initials on his jugs, on quite a few he wrote entire poems of his own composition, three of my favorites follow:

Dave belongs to Mr. Miles
Wher the oven bakes & the pot biles

I wonder where is all my relations
Friendship to all – and every nation

A pretty little girl on a verge
volca[n]ic mountain, how they burge

I hadn't thought of Dave or his work for a while. Then a rude, insolent White man from South Carolina decided to yell at a Black man who was addressing him and others from the podium before all three branches of our government. in fact, he was addressing ALL of us, not just those in attendance, and I was watching. I do not know how many times Dave was yelled at in his time...but I have some idea of how much it probably hurt.

My jug now lives in a private collection of African-American Art in the same room as works by Romare Bearden, James Vanderzee, Richmond Barthe, Elizabeth Cartlett and Augusta Savage. I'm glad it's there, it belongs. I was honored to own it for a while. More information on Dave, including all his poems on pots (though now called "vessels") is available if you look.

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