Black lives have always mattered

Opinion: Columns

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By Kwame Salter

Given the incomprehensible debate over the assertion that Black Lives Matter, I thought I would share with my readers a powerful poem by Margaret Walker written in 1937 over 83 years ago. Ms. Walker was only 22 years old when she wrote "For My People." This poem gives the reader, regardless of color, a palpable sense of what Black life felt like and still feels like to my people. So, with love, I share this magnificent poem.

 

 

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.

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Lisa Newton Johnson from Oak Park  

Posted: September 26th, 2020 8:56 AM

Thank you for sharing this beautiful poem, and thank you for seeking to help us understand the black experience. We have a long way to go, but perhaps these words have moved us forward a little bit.

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