Welcoming Poet Fabu

This past weekend, I was excited to welcome Madison’s former Poet Laureate, Fabu (Fabu Phillis Carter) to Brisbane House for a visit. It marked another milestone for me and Restore Brisbane LLC. The first was to restore the whole place; the second was to host guests; the third is to share the legacy of William Henry Brisbane as a Southern abolitionist with the community and beyond. As the town of Arena is celebrating its centennial this year, I decided to host a special performance event at Brisbane, on September 10, 2023. An actor, Sam White, will read selected poetry and prose from Brisbane’s journals (from the Wisconsin State Historical Society’s collection). Fabu will also read her original, contemporary poetry in response to her feelings about Brisbane the man and his homestead. Here is an example of each:

Equality of Man

1.     When Jesus left the world above

And stooped to this poor earth,

With purpose of grace and love

Most humble was his birth.

2.     Nor did he live in royal state,

In purple and in gold;

Whom him nobles did not wait,

No sceptre did he hold

3.     He ne’er did mingle with the great

and those who proudly soar;

All vanity did Jesus hate;

He liv’d among the poor.

4.     To him all colors were the same

And men of ev’ry grade;

He car’d not what might be their name

He no distinction made

5.     ‘Twas not the outward form he saw

‘Twas man’s immortal mind,

And hence on equal grade he brought

The whole of human kind.

6.     And thereby taught us all to live

In brotherhood and love,

Nor e’er a scornful look to give,

If we would dwell above—

7.     Then never let me, dearest Lord,

Treat Afric’s sons with scorn,

But to the blackest slave accord,

As to the highest born.

WHB Boston, June 30, 1843

Macaja Revels
(Play Audio)

In Black Settlers in Rural Wisconsin
there is a notation that a Black man
Macaja Revels, born in 1800 on the Cherokee reservation
migrated to Dane county and  camped at a stream of water
eighteen miles north of the village of Madison.
Macaja traveled on to buy land elsewhere.

There is no record of physical description; light, dark or medium
what he accomplished or who his parents were.
In 1800, a Black man was both an oddity and invisible
but the land welcomed him.
The land was cheap, fertile with plenty
there was schooling for children and protection for escaped slaves
so Macaja could rest briefly.

Who remembers Macaja Revels, Black settler in the 1800’s
Who camped at a refreshing stream
Eighteen miles north of the village of Madison
but moved on, maybe knowing there would be no welcome in Madison.
Who remembers that Black people came to Wisconsin
to be free?


I was excited but nervous about putting together an event like this. How would it be received by the public? How would Fabu feel about about the whole Brisbane House project and traveling 45 minutes out into the country to a place she never heard of? My first reassurance came in the form of enthusiasm for the idea from Cheryl Schmidt, a member of the Arena Centennial Committee, and the Arena Historians. Then came a grant award from River Valley ARTS and the Wisconsin Arts Board in partial support of the event. Third, Jen Uphoff Gray, Artistic Director of Forward Theater in Madison helped me hire Sam White to act as William Henry Brisbane—and he and I had a good time chatting about the thought of it; and a critical fourth, Fabu said she was interested in the project and drove all the way out to see the house, meet me, and hear all I had to tell her about Brisbane’s history. We spent an hour together and my fears were put to rest. It will be a wonderful collaboration. Right before saying good bye we wound up talking about her poetry book with a photo of her in her garden full of collards and mustard greens. I shared with her that the Brisbane flower garden offered up nettles, which I harvested, cooked, and ate for the first time last summer.

It’s critical to continue getting into the weeds of our fraught American history (maybe I will do better than a C+ this time, my worst grade in high school). Especially since we have new information, new interpretations, new willingness to listen and learn. What I can surely lean into is the fact that Brisbane had the courage to oppose enslavement prior to and during the Civil War. At minimum, I can take steps to honor and perpetuate his example.

Go to the Events page for more information about the September 10th event. You can contact me to make a reservation.