“The Birth of John Henry” by Melvin B. Tolson (1898 – 1966)


The night John Henry is born an ax
            of lightning splits the sky,
and a hammer of thunder pounds the earth,
      and the eagles and panthers cry!
      John Henry—he says to his Ma and Pa:
            “Get a gallon of barleycorn.
      I want to start right, like a he-man child,
            the night that I am born!”
Says:   “I want some ham hocks, ribs, and jowls,
            a pot of cabbage and greens;
      some hoecackes, jam, and buttermilk,
            a platter of pork and beans!”
      John Henry’s Ma—she wrings her hands,
            and his Pa—he scratches his head.
      John Henry—he curses in giraffe-tall words,
            flops over, and kicks down the bed.
      He’s burning mad, like a bear on fire—
            so he tears to the riverside.
As he stoops to drink, Old Man River gets scared
            and runs upstream to hide!
    Some say he was born in Georgia—O Lord!
            Some say in Alabam.
But it’s writ on the rock at the Big Bend Tunnel:
            “Lousyana was my home.   So scram!”

“He Had His Dream” by Paul Laurance Dunbar


Paul Laurence DunbarHe had his dream, and all through life,
Worked up to it through toil and strife.

Afloat fore’er before his eyes,
It colored for him all his skies:

The storm-cloud dark
Above his bark,

The calm and listless vault of blue
Took on its hopeful hue,

Continue reading “He Had His Dream” by Paul Laurance Dunbar

“On Being Brought from Africa to America” by Phillis Wheately


Phyillis Wheatley‘Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land,
Taught my benighted soul to understand
That there’s a God, that there’s a Saviour too:
Once I redemption neither sought nor knew.
Some view our sable race with scornful eye,
“Their colour is a diabolic die.”
Remember, ChristiansNegros, black as Cain,
May be refin’d, and join th’ angelic train.