Everyone was impressed with Amanda Gorman reading her poem “The Hill We Climb” at President Biden’s Inauguration.
St. Augustine had its own talented young, Black, female poet over a hundred years ago. “A Christmas Song” was originally published in The St. Augustine Evening Record on December 23, 1916.
“A Christmas Song”
Miss W. Beatrice Deas
Hear the Christmas chimes a-ringing,
Ringing in the air
And the merry, merry songs,
That fill the earth with cheer.
Each seems to tell the story
Of our blessed Savior’s birth.
And who’s coming in the future,
Will spread joy o’er all the earth.
Every little heart is gladdened,
As the Yule-tide time appears,
For they, too, can join in singing,
Carols beautiful and rare.
Old and young may join the chorus
Of peace on earth good will to men,
And help to spread the wondrous tidings,
Everywhere, far and near.
Eight-year old W. Beatrice Deas was the daughter of Catherine Deas, a widowed dressmaker. Her uncle Willie Deas taught at the Black public school in Lincolnville, the forerunner of Excelsior School. They lived together at 160 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue.
Another uncle, Edward Charles Deas, a music teacher living in Jacksonville, was visiting St. Augustine in December 1916 and may have inspired this poem. He was a graduate of Atlanta University, Class of 1912. In the 1920s he wrote several books on African American spirituals. Two of his best known hymns are “Big Business in Glory” and “Shine for Jesus.”
Later in life, W. Beatrice Deas contributed the lyrics of three hymns in the African Methodist Episcopal Hymnal. Their first lines are “In this world of sin and loss,” In this world of sin and shame struggling onward up the way,” and “I believe in Jesus’ mercy, and I know He will Forgive.” As far as we know, Miss Deas is the first African American woman from St. Augustine to have a published literary work