“Tuskegee” by Leslie Pinckney Hill (1880 – 1960)


Wherefore this busy labor without rest?
Is it an idle dream to which we cling,
Here where a thousand dusky toilers sing
Unto the world their hope? “Build we our best.
By hand and thought,” they cry, “although unblessed.”
So the great engines throb, and anvils ring,
And so the thought is wedded to the thing;
But what shall be the end, and what the test?
Dear God, we dare not answer, we can see
Not many steps ahead, but this we know—
If all our toilsome building is in vain,
Availing not to set our manhood free,
If envious hate roots out the seed we sow,
The South will wear eternally a stain.

“Atlanta Exposition Ode” by Mary Weston Fordham (1862? – 1905)


“Atlanta Exposition Ode”

‘Cast down your bucket where you are,’
From burning sands or Polar star
From where the iceberg rears its head
Or where the kingly palms outspread;
‘Mid blackened fields or golden sheaves,
Or foliage green, or autumn leaves,
Come sounds of warning from afar,
‘Cast down your bucket where you are.’

What doth it matter if thy years
Have slowly dragged ‘mid sighs and tears?
What doth it matter, since thy day
Is brightened now by hope’s bright ray.

The morning star will surely rise,
And Ethiop’s sons with longing eyes
And outstretched hands, will bless the day,
When old things shall have passed away.

Come, comrades, from the East, the West!
Come, bridge the chasm. It is best.
Come, warm hearts of the sunny South,
And clasp hands with the mighty North.
Rise Afric’s sons and chant with joy,
Good will to all without alloy;
The night of grief has passed away-
On Orient gleams a brighter day.

Say, ye that wore the blue, how sweet
That thus in sympathy we meet,
Our brothers who the gray did love
And martyrs to their cause did prove.
Say, once for all and once again,
That blood no more shall flow in vain;
Say Peace shall brood o’er this fair land
And hearts, for aye, be joined with hand.

Hail! Watchman, from thy lofty height;
Tell us, O tell us of the night?
Will Bethlehem’s Star ere long arise
And point this nation to the skies?
Will pæans ring from land and sea
Fraught with untrammelled liberty
Till Time’s appointed course be run,
And Earth’s millenium be begun?

‘Cast down your bucket,’ let it be
As water flows both full and free!
Let charity, that twice blest boon
Thy watchword be from night to morn.
Let kindness as the dew distil
To friend and foe, alike, good will;
Till sounds the wondrous battle-call,
For all one flag, one flag for all.

“Frederick Douglass” by Joseph Seamon Cotter, Sr. (1861 – 1949)


Frederick Douglass

BY JOSEPH SEAMON COTTER, SR

O eloquent and caustic sage!
Thy long and rugged pilgrimage
To glory’s shrine has ended;
And thou hast passed the inner door,
And proved thy fitness o’er and o’er,
And to the dome ascended.

In speaking of thy noble life
One needs must think upon the strife
That long and sternly faced it;
But since those times have flitted by,
Just let the useless relic die
With passions that embraced it.

There is no evil known to man
But what, if wise enough, he can
Grow stronger in the bearing;
And so the ills we often scorn
May be of heavenly wisdom born
To aid our onward faring.

Howe’er this be, just fame has set
Her jewels in thy coronet
So firmly that the ages
To come will ever honor thee
And place thy name in company
With patriots and sages.

Now thou art gone, the little men
Of fluent tongue and trashy pen
Will strive to imitate thee;
And when they find they haven’t sense
Enough to make a fair pretense,
They’ll turn and underrate thee.

“Evening” by Paul Laurence Dunbar


Evening

by Paul Laurence Dunbar

The moon begins her stately ride
Across the summer sky;
The happy wavelets lash the shore,—
The tide is rising high.

Beneath some friendly blade of grass
The lazy beetle cowers;
The coffers of the air are filled
With offerings from the flowers.

And slowly buzzing o’er my head
A swallow wings her flight;
I hear the weary plowman sing
As falls the restful night.

“Harlem Shadows” by Claude McKay


Harlem Shadows

I hear the halting footsteps of a lass
In Negro Harlem when the night lets fall
Its veil. I see the shapes of girls who pass
To bend and barter at desire’s call.
Ah, little dark girls who in slippered feet
Go prowling through the night from street to street!
Through the long night until the silver break
Of day the little gray feet know no rest;
Through the lone night until the last snow-flake
Has dropped from heaven upon the earth’s white breast,
The dusky, half-clad girls of tired feet
Are trudging, thinly shod, from street to street.
Ah, stern harsh world, that in the wretched way
Of poverty, dishonor and disgrace,
Has pushed the timid little feet of clay,
The sacred brown feet of my fallen race!
Ah, heart of me, the weary, weary feet
In Harlem wandering from street to street.

“Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou


 

“Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou (1928 – 2014)

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

“The Gift to Sing” by James Weldon Johnson (1871 – 1938)


Sometimes the mist overhangs my path,
And blackening clouds about me cling;
But, oh, I have a magic way
To turn the gloom to cheerful day—
I softly sing.

And if the way grows darker still,
Shadowed by Sorrow’s somber wing,
With glad defiance in my throat,
I pierce the darkness with a note,
And sing, and sing.

I brood not over the broken past,
Nor dread whatever time may bring;
No nights are dark, no days are long,
While in my heart there swells a song,
And I can sing.

“Ships That Pass In The Night” by Paul Laurence Dunbar


Out in the sky the great dark clouds are massing;

I look far out into the pregnant night,

Where I can hear a solemn booming gun

And catch the gleaming of a random light,

That tells me that the ship I seek is passing, passing.

My tearful eyes my soul’s deep hurt are glassing;

For I would hail and check that ship of ships.

I stretch my hands imploring, cry aloud,

My voice falls dead a foot from mine own lips,

And but its ghost doth reach that vessel, passing, passing.

O Earth, O Sky, O Ocean, both surpassing,

O heart of mine, O soul that dreads the dark!

Is there no hope for me? Is there no way

That I may sight and check that speeding bark

Which out of sight and sound is passing, passing?

“A Grain of Sand” by Frances E. W. Harper


Do you see this grain of sand
Lying loosely in my hand?
Do you know to me it brought
Just a simple loving thought?
When one gazes night by night
On the glorious stars of light,
Oh how little seems the span
Measured round the life of man.

Oh! how fleeting are his years
With their smiles and their tears;
Can it be that God does care
For such atoms as we are?
Then outspake this grain of sand
‘I was fashioned by His hand
In the star lit realms of space
I was made to have a place.

‘Should the ocean flood the world,
Were its mountains ‘gainst me hurled
All the force they could employ
Wouldn’t a single grain destroy;
And if I, a thing so light,
Have a place within His sight;
You are linked unto his throne
Cannot live nor die alone.

In the everlasting arms
Mid life’s dangers and alarms
Let calm trust your spirit fill;
Know He’s God, and then be still.’
Trustingly I raised my head
Hearing what the atom said;
Knowing man is greater far
Than the brightest sun or star.

“Church Building” by Frances Ellen Watkins Harper


Uncle Jacob often told us,
Since freedom blessed our race
We ought all to come together
And build a meeting place.

So we pinched, and scraped, and spared,
A little here and there:
Though our wages was but scanty,
The church did get a share.

And, when the house was finished,
Uncle Jacob came to pray;
He was looking mighty feeble,
And his head was awful gray.

But his voice rang like a trumpet;
His eyes looked bright and young;
And it seemed a mighty power
Was resting on his tongue.

And he gave us all his blessing –
‘Twas parting words he said,
For soon we got the message
The dear old man was dead.

But I believe he’s in the kingdom,
For when we shook his hand
He said, ‘Children, you must meet me
Right in the promised land;

‘For when I done a moiling
And toiling here below,
Through the gate into the city
Straightway I hope to go.’