University dorm named for 19th century slave

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (MCT) – Slavery was his curse. Selling vegetables was his living. Verse was his love.

George Moses Horton, a Chatham County slave and self-made poet, now has a University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill dorm named for him.

Horton Residence Hall officially debuted at a Monday ceremony attended by Chancellor James Moeser, students and a small number of Horton descendants.

The small, 276-bed dorm may be the first American university building named for a slave, Moeser said.

“I think George Moses would be very amazed and emotional to see this,” said Marion Horton, whose great, great grandfather is thought to be a brother, cousin or nephew of George Moses Horton.

The slave poet, who likely lived between 1797 and 1883, made himself literate reading discarded spelling books by firelight.

Each Saturday, Horton’s owner allowed him to sell fruits and vegetables on UNC-Chapel Hill’s campus. There he amused students with “foolish harangues,” he wrote in an 1845 autobiography. They “discovered a spark of genius in me,” he wrote.

Eventually he “began to speak of poetry, which lifted (students) still higher on the wing of astonishment. All eyes were on me, and all ears were open.”

He first made his mark selling love poems to students, which they passed on to their sweethearts. His flat rate was 25 cents. Sympathetic patrons offered 50 or 75 cents – and a professor’s wife taught him to write.

Horton later published a book, “The Hope of Liberty” that showed his progression beyond solicited love poems to protests of his enslavement.

“He, like Frederick Douglass, might have someone claiming to own his body,” English professor Trudier Harris said at the dorm ribbon-cutting.

“But his mind,” she said, “was free.”

The largest collection of George Moses Horton’s manuscripts and letters is stored in the North Carolina Collection in UNC-CH’s Wilson Library. Items from the Horton collection are among the holdings featured in the university’s virtual museum, unveiled in 2006 and viewable at