January 21, 2013

Civil Rights Poetry for MLK Day

In honor of MLK Day, I wanted to read and share some poetry that was written about/during the Civil Rights Movement.  Please read these poems and share your thoughts about them in the comments. 

CHILDREN'S RHYMES by Langston Hughes
    By what sends
    the white kids
    I ain't sent:
    I know I can't
    be President.

    What don't bug
    them white kids
    sure bugs me:
    We know everybody
    ain't free.

    Lies written down
    for white folks
    ain't for us a-tall:
    Liberty And Justice —
    Huh! For All?

Langston Hughes' work was extremely important in shaping the artistic contributions of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920's (poets.org).  He wrote poetry (as well as other works) that reflected the black community's suffering as well as the enjoyment they found in spite of it.  This poem speaks to me of how even though I have challenges in my life, it doesn't compare to the plight of those who do not know freedom.  That is why I support non-profits and grassroots movements to help those who are less fortunate than I am.   This poem speaks of how 100 years ago for a black child to even dream of the possibility of becoming President was a pipe dream.  It was not going to happen- and it didn't in their lifetime.  But now, only 100 years later, we have a President who is half-black.  That, to me, is amazing and wonderful and it is because of leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. that it is reality and no longer a dream. 

    The road from Selma stretches in the rain
    white as a shroud, rimmed with stiff troopers.

    The marchers stand bowed, hands joined, swaying gently
    their soft strong song stilled.
    Then up from a Birmingham bed
    rises a gentle Boston man, Jim Reeb,
    steps softly back to Selma
    and moves among the stilled marchers.

    The troopers stir, link arms,
    close ranks across the road
    stretching from Selma in the rain
    white as a shroud.

    The Boston man, Jim Reeb, walks toward the troopers
    and they straighten and stand guard tight as death.
    But someone moves behind them, waves his hand.
    "That you, Jackson?" Jim Reeb peers ahead.

    "That's right, Reverend. Come on through."

    The troopers tighten guard, straight as death
    But Jim Reeb doesn't stop.

    He goes on through,
    right through the stiff ranked troopers
    white as a shroud
    rimming the road from Selma.

    And Jimmie Lee Jackson takes him by the arm
    and they march down the road to the courthouse.

    Over in Mississippi Medgar Evers stands,
    three young men rise up from a dam in Neshoba County
    and they all go down the road
    and walk right through the tight stiff trooper line
    and down the road from Selma.

    And from all over there's a stirring sound.
    Emmett Till jumps up and runs laughing like any boy
    through the stiff white rim.
    Four small girls skip out of a church in Birmingham
    and the tall old man in Springfield gets up
    and goes to Selma.

    And down from every lynching tree
    and up from every hidden grave
    come men, women, children, heads carried high,
    passing a moment among the bowed, stilled troopers
    and down the white road from Selma.

    Until the age long road is packed
    black with marchers streaming to the courthouse.

    And the bowed stilled group in Selma
    raise their heads, hands joined,
    swaying gently, in soft strong song
    that goes right through the stiff ranked troopers
    white as a shroud
    barring the road from Selma.
Copyright © 1965 June Brindel

How powerful is the image of all of the people who stood up for what was right, who had the courage to be the first.  It makes me think.  Would I have had the courage?  I would like to think that I would, but it is hard to know what we would and would not do in such a dangerous and precarious and monumentally important situation.  Would we exemplify the same courage?  Do you think you could have accomplished what these leaders and fighters accomplished?


  1. Very powerful poetry, thank you for posting! Also, I couldn't agree more about your comment: "That, to
    me, is amazing and wonderful and it is because of leaders like Martin
    Luther King, Jr. that it is reality and no longer a dream. "

  2. What a great way to celebrate the day.

  3. Thanks, I really enjoyed doing this. I think I will make it a tradition.


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