The George Moses Horton Project was founded in January 2000 as a special program of the
Chatham County Arts Council, in partnership with the Horton Middle School and the Chatham
County Black Historical Society. Its mission is to spark the creative spirit in Chatham
students and citizens, and to honor local history, focusing on the life and work of George
Moses Horton as a hero of literacy and expression.
Who Was George Moses Horton?
George Moses Horton was a black man who lived in
slavery in Chatham County from 1800 to 1865. During that time he was inspired by
the rural countryside, the people in his life, and his experiences as a slave to
make up and perform poems to express himself. He learned to read and write when
it was against the law. With the help of a professor’s wife at UNC, he
published two books of poems. He sold love poems to college students at a
farmers market in Chapel Hill. He hoped to save enough money to buy his freedom,
and he became a symbol for people against slavery.
Horton was never able to
purchase his freedom. In 1865 he left Chatham County with Union soldiers and
went north to freedom. He published a third book, Naked Genius,
while living in Raleigh. He ended his days in Philadelphia.
George Moses Horton was
considered a genius in his time. Against great odds he gained literacy and was
befriended by scholars, college students, university presidents, and the
governor of North Carolina. He read the great classic literature of the time and
lectured to students at UNC-Chapel Hill. His writing celebrates the rural
beauty of Chatham County and laments the painful restrictions of slavery. His
poems cover many subjects: from a joyful summer’s day to the sorrowful sale of
a slave family; from declarations of love to cries for freedom; from praises for
President Lincoln to pleas for brotherhood between the armies of the North and
In the 1930s Chatham County
named a school for the poet: the Horton School, created to educate black
children. This later became Horton High School. After integration in the 1970s,
it became Horton Middle School. In the year 2000 the last main classroom
building of the old Horton school was demolished and replaced with new
In June 1978, renewed interest in George Moses Horton led
Governor Jim Hunt to declare June 28 “George Moses Horton Day.”
Festivities in Chatham County included the premiere of a play, “A Man
Named Moses,” by Mildred Bright-Peyton, at the Chatham County
Fairgrounds. Actors were graduates of the Horton High School.
In 1996, George Moses Horton
was inducted into North Carolina’s Literary Hall of Fame. In 1997 Chatham
County Commissioners declared Horton “Historic Poet Laureate” of Chatham
County. That same year a national organization was created in his name: the
George Moses Horton Society for the Study of African American Poetry. For the
first time Horton’s life and work were included in national college curricula,
through the pages of the Norton Anthology of African American Literature.
The North Carolina Writers Network also has included Horton in its Creative Writing
Workbook, Words from Home, a curriculum for middle school grades.
In 1999, the NC Division of
Archives and History approved placement of a historic marker, the first for an
African American and for a nationally recognized artist in Chatham County. The
marker will be placed on 15-501 near Mt. Gilead Church Road. It will read:
poet. His The Hope of
Liberty (1829) was first book
by a black author in South.
Lived on farm 2 mi. SE.
In 2000, the Chatham
County Arts Council sponsored a series of educational and public events to
celebrate the 200th anniversary of George Moses Horton entering Chatham County,
at age three, a slave. Books and curriculum materials were donated to all public
schools in Chatham County. Ongoing celebrations in 2001-2002 have included
completion of a Unity Quilt Project based on a Horton poem and nomination of
George Moses Horton for a U.S. Postage Stamp. Watch this site for new
developments with the Arts Council’s George Moses Horton Memorial Project, the
George Moses Horton Reading Series, K-12 Curriculum, and the North Carolina
Literary Festival 2002.
THE GEORGE MOSES HORTON
Founded in 2000, to celebrate Horton’s 200th anniversary,
the George Moses Horton Project brought arts and humanities curricula to Chatham
schools and educational materials and events to the general public, culminating
in a Jubilee on November 18, 2000. Artists, educators, oral historians, writers,
and musicians are encouraged to learn Horton’s fascinating story and develop
an ongoing legacy of honor and celebration for this extraordinary figure in
But O, the state,
The dark suspense
in which poor vassals stand,
Each mind upon the
spire of chance hangs, fluctuate,
The day of
separation is at hand.
--George Moses Horton, “On the Division of
DID YOU KNOW?
That Horton Middle School in Pittsboro, NC, was named for George Moses Horton?
That George Moses Horton was the first African American to publish a book?
That Horton was the only person to publish a book while living in slavery?
George Moses Horton is Chatham County’s Historic Poet Laureate?
That George Moses Horton sold poems at a farmers market in Chapel Hill?
a governor of North Carolina tried to purchase George Moses Horton’s
That descendants from the Horton farm still live in Chatham County?
a president of UNC-Chapel Hill turned down Horton’s request to buy his
one of Horton’s poems refers to summer in Chatham as “paradise”?
So teach me to
regard my day,
How small a point
my life appears;
One gleam to death
the whole betrays,
A momentary flash
--George Moses Horton,
“Reflections on the Flash of a Meteor”
THE HORTON LEGACY: WORKS OF ART AND MUSIC
Works of art and music have been inspired by George Moses
Horton’s life and poetry. Here’s a list of a few recent creations.
Almost a hundred poems by students and adults entering
the Horton Poetry Contest in 2000. Winning poems: “Friendship,” by Ann
Lassiter, “God’s Country, by Cynthia Anne Strange, “Pupil of the Eye,”
by Sally Jamir.
Ballad of George Moses Horton” by Cynthia Crossen, Chatham County, NC. For
acoustic guitar and voice. Premiere performance, with Rev. Carrie Bolton,
Old Carriage Horse,” commissioned work for middle school voices, by Scott
Tilley, Creative Director, Triangle Opera Company, Durham, NC. Chorale with
piano accompaniment. Premiered November 18, 2000, by the Horton Middle
School Chorus, Mrs. Amelia Odell, conductor.
Moses Horton Song Cycle,” by Henry Muldrow.
A 25-cycle “art song” series in the style of Clara Schuman, using Horton
poetry lyrics with guitar accompaniment. The Netherlands. Work in progress.
with Letters,” pen and ink drawing by Frances Bregman Schultzberg. Chatham
County, NC. Published as notecard invitation by the George Moses Horton
Project. Fall 2000.
Moses Horton Freedom Path,” by Horton Middle School Fifth Graders, Fall
2000. A public art project sited in the Horton courtyard. Stepping stones of
a spiral path represent Horton’s journey toward self-education and
literacy. Artists in Residence, Roxy Thomas and Janice Rieves. Fall 2000.
Moses Horton Unity Quilt,” by Chatham Quilters. Each of 12 squares is
based on an image from a stanza of Horton’s poem “On Summer.” Spring
Anthem for Chatham County,” by Marjorie Hudson. Excerpts from Horton’s
poem “On Summer” form the lyrics for this medley of classic Anglican
hymn and gospel music chorus. Work-in-progress.
Horton: Poet of Chatham,” by Daphne Hill and students. A
fictional “autobiography” of Horton with illustrations based on Horton’s
own words. Spring 2000. Unpublished manuscript.
Sidewalk Chalk Art: Images from Horton poems by Beth Goldston, Michael and Josh
Brooks, and others. Horton Middle School sidewalk, Nov. 2000.