Thoughtful Thursday: Farewell, Black History Month

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Thoughtful Thursday: Farewell, Black History Month

As it is the last day of Black History Month, today’s Thoughtful Thursday features several poems celebrating notable Black figures in American history and one in commemorating the history of Black people in America.    GCP hopes that parents share Black American history with their sons and daughters throughout the year, (not just for one month, every month), but we are not mad at having the national spotlight shine more brightly on our history for the 28 days of February.

We begin this farewell with poems about Frederick Douglass (“Frederick Douglass” by Robert Hayden, 1913-1980), Billy Holliday (“Canary” by Rita Dove, b. 1952), and Fannie Lou Hamer (“1977—Poem for Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer” by June Jordan,  1932-2002).  We end with a poem that critiques our history and offers hope for our future (“For My People” by Margaret Walker, 1915-1998).  Share these poems with your sons and daughters and enjoy.

Frederick Douglass

When it is finally ours, this freedom, this liberty, this beautiful
and terrible thing, needful to man as air,
usable as earth; when it belongs at last to all,
when it is truly instinct, brain matter, diastole, systole,
reflex action; when it is finally won; when it is more
than the gaudy mumbo jumbo of politicians:
this man, this Douglass, this former slave, this Negro
beaten to his knees, exiled, visioning a world
where none is lonely, none hunted, alien,
this man, superb in love and logic, this man
shall be remembered. Oh, not with statues’ rhetoric,
not with legends and poems and wreaths of bronze alone,
but with the lives grown out of his life, the lives
fleshing his dream of the beautiful, needful thing.
Robert Hadyn

Canary

Billie Holiday’s burned voice
had as many shadows as lights,
a mournful candelabra against a sleek piano,
the gardenia her signature under that ruined face.
(Now you’re cooking, drummer to bass,
magic spoon, magic needle.
Take all day if you have to
with your mirror and your bracelet of song.)
Fact is, the invention of women under siege
has been to sharpen love in the service of myth.
Rita Dove

1977: Poem for Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer

You used to say, “June?
Honey when you come down here you
supposed to stay with me. Where
else?”
Meanin home
against the beer the shotguns and the
point of view of whitemen don’
never see Black anybodies without
some violent itch start up.
                                       The ones who
said, “No Nigga’s Votin in This Town . . .
lessen it be feet first to the booth”
Then jailed you
beat you brutal
bloody/battered/beat
you blue beyond the feeling
of the terrible
And failed to stop you.
Only God could but He
wouldn’t stop
you
fortress from self-
pity
Humble as a woman anywhere
I remember finding you inside the laundromat
in Ruleville
                  lion spine relaxed/hell
                  what’s the point to courage
                  when you washin clothes?
But that took courage
                  just to sit there/target
                  to the killers lookin
                  for your singin face
                  perspirey through the rinse
                  and spin
and later
you stood mighty in the door on James Street
loud callin:
                  “BULLETS OR NO BULLETS!
                  THE FOOD IS COOKED
                  AN’ GETTIN COLD!”
We ate
A family tremulous but fortified
by turnips/okra/handpicked
like the lilies
filled to the very living
full
one solid gospel
                        (sanctified)
one gospel
                (peace)
one full Black lily
luminescent
in a homemade field
of love
June Jordan

For My People

For my people everywhere singing their slave songs
     repeatedly: their dirges and their ditties and their blues
     and jubilees, praying their prayers nightly to an
     unknown god, bending their knees humbly to an
     unseen power;

For my people lending their strength to the years, to the
    gone years and the now years and the maybe years,
    washing ironing cooking scrubbing sewing mending
    hoeing plowing digging planting pruning patching
    dragging along never gaining never reaping never
    knowing and never understanding;

For my playmates in the clay and dust and sand of Alabama
    backyards playing baptizing and preaching and doctor
    and jail and soldier and school and mama and cooking
    and playhouse and concert and store and hair and
    Miss Choomby and company;

For the cramped bewildered years we went to school to learn
    to know the reasons why and the answers to and the
    people who and the places where and the days when, in
    memory of the bitter hours when we discovered we
    were black and poor and small and different and nobody
    cared and nobody wondered and nobody understood;

For the boys and girls who grew in spite of these things to
    be man and woman, to laugh and dance and sing and
    play and drink their wine and religion and success, to
    marry their playmates and bear children and then die
    of consumption and anemia and lynching;

For my people thronging 47th Street in Chicago and Lenox
    Avenue in New York and Rampart Street in New
    Orleans, lost disinherited dispossessed and happy
    people filling the cabarets and taverns and other
    people’s pockets and needing bread and shoes and milk and
    land and money and something—something all our own;

For my people walking blindly spreading joy, losing time
     being lazy, sleeping when hungry, shouting when
     burdened, drinking when hopeless, tied, and shackled
     and tangled among ourselves by the unseen creatures
     who tower over us omnisciently and laugh;

For my people blundering and groping and floundering in
     the dark of churches and schools and clubs
     and societies, associations and councils and committees and
     conventions, distressed and disturbed and deceived and
     devoured by money-hungry glory-craving leeches,
     preyed on by facile force of state and fad and novelty, by
     false prophet and holy believer;

For my people standing staring trying to fashion a better way
    from confusion, from hypocrisy and misunderstanding,
    trying to fashion a world that will hold all the people,
    all the faces, all the adams and eves and their countless generations;

Let a new earth rise. Let another world be born. Let a
    bloody peace be written in the sky. Let a second
    generation full of courage issue forth; let a people
    loving freedom come to growth. Let a beauty full of
    healing and a strength of final clenching be the pulsing
    in our spirits and our blood. Let the martial songs
    be written, let the dirges disappear. Let a race of men now
    rise and take control.
Margaret Walker

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