February, for most, is the month that is associated with love between people. But for me as of late, it has been something a little different. For me, it is the occasion when I observe my love for myself. It allows me to exist as a single person without feeling any shame or inadequacy. This sense of self would not exist without others who have come before me. What I am talking about in this instance is Black History Month. As I learned about it, it instilled in me that not all things are fair and sometimes no matter how dire things may seem or how lowly others may think of you, you know that you have worth. And that is reason enough to celebrate. I hope that this has been a Happy Black History Month. If you didn’t get the chance to introduce yourself to a contribution by an African American person this month, below I have some poems.
FRANCES ELLEN WATKINS HARPER
Bury Me In A Free Land
Make me a grave where’er you will,
In a lowly plain or lofty hill,
Make it among earth’s humblest graves,
But not in a land where men are slaves.
I could not rest if around my grave
I heard the steps of a trembling slave:
His shadow above my silent tomb
Would make it a place of fearful gloom.
I could not rest if I heard the tread
Of a coffle gang to the shambles led,
And the mother’s shriek of wild despair
Rise like a curse on the trembling air.
I could not sleep if I saw the lash
Drinking her blood at each fearful gash,
And I saw her babes torn from her breast,
Like trembling doves from their parent nest.
I’d shudder and start if I heard the bay
Of blood-hounds seizing their human prey,
And I heard the captive plead in vain
As they bound afresh his galling chain.
If I saw young girls from their mother’s arms
Bartered and sold for their youthful charms,
My eye would flash with mournful flame,
My death-paled cheek grow red with shame.
I would sleep, dear friends, where bloated might
Can rob of his dearest right;
My rest shall be calm in any grave
Where none can call his brother a slave.
I ask no monument, proud and high
To arrest the gaze of passers-by;
All that my yearning spirit craves,
Is bury me not in a land of slaves.
Learning To Read
Very soon the Yankee teachers
Came down and set up school;
But, oh! how the Rebs did hate it-
It was agin’ their rule.
Our masters always tried to hide
Book learning from our eyes;
Knowledge didn’t agree with slavery-
‘Twould make us all too wise.
But some of us would try to steal
A little from the book,
And put the words together,
And learn by hook or crook.
I remember Uncle Caldwell,
Who took pot liquor fat
And greased the pages of his book,
And hid it in his had.
And had his master ever seen
The leaves upon his head,
He’d have thought them greasy papers,
But nothing to be read.
And there was Mr. Turner’s Ben,
Who heard the children spell,
And picked up the words right up by heart,
And learned to read ’em well.
Well, the Northern folks kept sending
The Yankee teachers down;
And they stood right up and helped us,
Though Rebs did sneer and frown.
And I longed to read my Bible,
For precious words it said;
But when I begun to learn it,
Folks just shook their heads,
And said there is no use trying,
Oh! Chloe, you’re too late;
But as I was rising sixty.
I had no time to wait.
So I got a pair of glasses,
And straight to work I went,
And never stopped till I could read
The hymns and Testament.
Then I got a little cabin
A place to call my own-
And I felt as independent
As the queen upon her throne.
JAMES DAVID CORROTHERS
An Indignation Dinner
Dey was hard times jes fo’ Christmas round our neighborhood one year;
So we held a secret meetin’, whah de white folds couldn’t hear,
To ‘scuss de situation, an’ to see what could be done
Towa’d a fust-class Christmas dinneh an’ a little Christmas fun.
Rufus Green, who called de meetin’ ris an’ said: “In dis here town,
An’ throughout de land, de white folks is a’tryin’ to keep us down.”
S”e: Dey bought us, sold us, beat us; now dey ‘buse us ca’se we’s free;
But when dey tetch my stomach, dey’s done gone too fur foh me!
“Is I right?” “You sho is Rufus!” roared a dozen hungry throats.
“Ef you’d keep a mule a-wo’kin’ don’t you tamper wid his oats.
Dat’s sense,” continued Rufus. “But dese white folks nowadays
Has done got so close and stingy you can’t live on what dey pays.
“Here ’tis Christmas-time, an’ folkses, I’s indignant ‘nough to choke.
Whah’s our Christmas dinneh comin’ when we’s mos’ completely broke?
I can’t hahdly fo’d a toothpick an’ a glass o’ water. Mad?
Say, I’m desp’ret! Dey jes better treat me nice, dese white folks had!”
Well, dey ‘bused de white folks scan’lous, till old Pappy Simmons ris,
Leanin’ on his cane to s’pote him, on account his rheumatis’,
An’ s”e: “Chilun, whut’s dat wintry wind a-sighin’ th’ough de street
‘Bout yo wasted summeh wages? But, no matter, we mus’ eat.
“Now, I seed a beau’ful tuhkey on a certain gemmun’s fahm.
He’s a-growin’ fat an’ sassy, an’ a-struttin’to a chahm.
Chickens, sheeps, hogs, sweet pertaters-all de craps is fine dis year;
All we need is a committee foh to tote de goodies here.”
Well, we lit right in an’ voted dat it was a gran’ idee,
An’ de dinneh we had Christmas was worth trabblin’ miles to see;
An’ we eat a full an’ plenty, big an’little, great an’ small,
Not beca’se we was dishonest, but indignant, sah. Dat’s all.