“Mother to Son” by Langston Hughes


"Mother to Son"
by Langston Hughes

Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
Bare.

But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.

So boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

“The Slave Mother” by Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (1825 – 1911)


“The Slave Mother”

Heard you that shriek? It rose
   So wildly on the air,
It seem’d as if a burden’d heart
   Was breaking in despair.
Saw you those hands so sadly clasped—
   The bowed and feeble head—
The shuddering of that fragile form—
   That look of grief and dread?
Saw you the sad, imploring eye?
   Its every glance was pain,
As if a storm of agony
   Were sweeping through the brain.
She is a mother pale with fear,
   Her boy clings to her side,
And in her kyrtle vainly tries
   His trembling form to hide.
He is not hers, although she bore
   For him a mother’s pains;
He is not hers, although her blood
   Is coursing through his veins!
He is not hers, for cruel hands
   May rudely tear apart
The only wreath of household love
   That binds her breaking heart.
His love has been a joyous light
   That o’er her pathway smiled,
A fountain gushing ever new,
   Amid life’s desert wild.
His lightest word has been a tone
   Of music round her heart,
Their lives a streamlet blent in one—
   Oh, Father! must they part?
They tear him from her circling arms,
   Her last and fond embrace.
Oh! never more may her sad eyes
   Gaze on his mournful face.
No marvel, then, these bitter shrieks
   Disturb the listening air:
She is a mother, and her heart
   Is breaking in despair.

“Eliza Harris” by Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (1825 – 1911)


“Eliza Harris”

Like a fawn from the arrow, startled and wild,
A woman swept by us, bearing a child;
In her eye was the night of a settled despair,
And her brow was o’ershaded with anguish and care.
She was nearing the river—in reaching the brink,
She heeded no danger, she paused not to think!
For she is a mother—her child is a slave—
And she’ll give him his freedom, or find him a grave!
’Twas a vision to haunt us, that innocent face—
So pale in its aspect, so fair in its grace;
As the tramp of the horse and the bay of the hound,
With the fetters that gall, were trailing the ground!
She was nerved by despair, and strengthen’d by woe,
As she leap’d o’er the chasms that yawn’d from below;
Death howl’d in the tempest, and rav’d in the blast,
But she heard not the sound till the danger was past.
Oh! how shall I speak of my proud country’s shame?
Of the stains on her glory, how give them their name?
How say that her banner in mockery waves—
Her “star-spangled banner”—o’er millions of slaves?
How say that the lawless may torture and chase
A woman whose crime is the hue of her face?
How the depths of forest may echo around
With the shrieks of despair, and the bay of the hound?
With her step on the ice, and her arm on her child,
The danger was fearful, the pathway was wild;
But, aided by Heaven, she gained a free shore,
Where the friends of humanity open’d their door.
So fragile and lovely, so fearfully pale,
Like a lily that bends to the breath of the gale,
Save the heave of her breast, and the sway of her hair,
You’d have thought her a statue of fear and despair.
In agony close to her bosom she press’d
The life of her heart, the child of her breast:—
Oh! love from its tenderness gathering might,
Had strengthen’d her soul for the dangers of flight.
But she’s free!—yes, free from the land where the slave
From the hand of oppression must rest in the grave;
Where bondage and torture, where scourges and chains
Have plac’d on our banner indelible stains.
The bloodhounds have miss’d the scent of her way;
The hunter is rifled and foil’d of his prey;
Fierce jargon and cursing, with clanking of chains,
Make sounds of strange discord on Liberty’s plains.
With the rapture of love and fullness of bliss,
She plac’d on his brow a mother’s fond kiss:—
Oh! poverty, danger and death she can brave,
For the child of her love is no longer a slave!

“My Little Dreams by Georgia Douglas Johnson (1880 – 1966)


My Little Dreams

I’m folding up my little dreams
Within my heart tonight,
And praying I may soon forget
The torture of their sight.

For time’s deft fingers scroll my brow
With fell relentless art—
I’m folding up my little dreams
Tonight, within my heart.

“Imploring to be Resigned at Death” by George Moses Horton (1798–1884)


Imploring to be Resigned at Death

By GEORGE MOSES HORTON

Let me die and not tremble at death,
But smile at the close of my day,
And then, at the flight of my breath,
Like a bird of the morning in May,
Go chanting away.

Let me die without fear of the dead,
No horrors my soul shall dismay,
And with faith’s pillow under my head,
With defiance to mortal decay,
Go chanting away.

Let me die like a son of the brave,
And martial distinction display,
Nor shrink from a thought of the grave,
No, but with a smile from the clay,
Go chanting away.

Let me die glad, regardless of pain,
No pang to this world to betray;
And the spirit cut loose from its chain,
So loath in the flesh to delay,
Go chanting away.

Let me die, and my worst foe forgive,
When death veils the last vital ray;
Since I have but a moment to live,
Let me, when the last debt I pay,
Go chanting away.

“At the Closed Gates of Justice” by James D. Corrothers


At the Closed Gates of Justice

by James D. Corrothers

TO be a Negro in a day like this        

  Demands forgiveness. Bruised with blow on blow,

Betrayed, like him whose woe dimmed eyes gave bliss        

  Still must one succor those who brought one low,  

To be a Negro in a day like this.                 5


To be a Negro in a day like this         

  Demands rare patience—patience that can wait     

In utter darkness. ’Tis the path to miss,         

  And knock, unheeded, at an iron gate,        

To be a Negro in a day like this.                      10


To be a Negro in a day like this         

  Demands strange loyalty. We serve a flag  

Which is to us white freedom’s emphasis.    

  Ah! one must love when Truth and Justice lag,      

To be a Negro in a day like this.                       15


To be a Negro in a day like this—     

  Alas! Lord God, what evil have we done?  

Still shines the gate, all gold and amethyst,  

  But I pass by, the glorious goal unwon,      

“Merely a Negro”—in a day like this!                    20

 

“Negro Seranade” by James Edwin Campbell


Negro Seranade

by James Edwin Campbell

 

O, DE LIGHT-BUGS glimmer down de lane,

Merlindy! Merlindy!

O, de whip’-will callin’ notes ur pain—

Merlindy, O, Merlindy!

O, honey lub, my turkle dub,                                        5

Doan’ you hyuh my bawnjer ringin’,

While de night-dew falls an’ de ho’n owl calls

By de of ba’n gate Ise singin’.

 

O, Miss ’Lindy, doan’ you hyuh me, chil’,

Merlindy! Merlindy!                                                     10

My lub fur you des dribe me wil’—

Merlindy, O, Merlindy!

I’ll sing dis night twel broad day-light,

Ur bu’s’ my froat wid tryin’,

’Less you come down, Miss ’Lindy Brown,                15

An’ stops dis ha’t f’um sighin’!