GEORGE MOSES HORTON 
Historic Poet Laureate of Chatham County, North Carolina
ca. 1797?-1883

Celebration of His Life and Work

GMH Fact Sheet
Horton Project 2000
GMH Project Scrapbook
Jubilee Scrapbook
Links to More Information
Selected Writings
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The George Moses Horton Project

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 South.

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 facilities.

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: 

 GEORGE MOSES
HORTON
ca. 1798-1883

 Slave 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 PROJECT 

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 Chatham’s history. 

               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 an Estate”


 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?

  • That George Moses Horton is Chatham County’s Historic Poet Laureate?

  • That George Moses Horton sold poems at a farmers market in Chapel Hill?

  • That a governor of North Carolina tried to purchase George Moses Horton’s freedom?

  • That descendants from the Horton farm still live in Chatham County?

  • That a president of UNC-Chapel Hill turned down Horton’s request to buy his freedom?

  • That 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 of years.

--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.

  • “The Ballad of George Moses Horton” by Cynthia Crossen, Chatham County, NC. For acoustic guitar and voice. Premiere performance, with Rev. Carrie Bolton, Fall 2000.

  •  “The 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.

  • “George 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.

  • “Child 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.

  • “George 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.

  • “George 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 2001.

  • “An 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.

  • "George Moses 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.

 Send information about other works inspired by Horton to HortonProject@yahoo.com 


  On fertile borders, near the stream,
Now gaze with pleasure and delight;
See loaded vines with melons teem--
’Tis paradise to human sight.

  --George Moses Horton, “On Summer"  


Friendship is but the feeling sigh,
The sympathising tear,
Constrained to flow till others dry,
Nor let the needy soul pass by,
Nor scorn to see or hear.

       --George Moses Horton, “True Friendship” 


Far, far above this world I soar,
And almost nature lose,
Aerial regions to explore,
With this ambitious Muse.

 --George Moses Horton, “On the Poetic Muse”


GEORGE MOSES HORTON POETRY CONTEST:

Year 2000 contest winners were Ann Lassiter, for “Friendship,” Cynthia Anne Strange, for “God’s Country” and Sally Jamir for “Pupil of the Eye.”

The three winners read their poems at the Jubilee. Dancers from the African-American Dance Ensemble escorted poets to the podium. 


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