African American Poetry (1870-1928): A Digital Anthology

Ada Tessibel Peters, "Father of His People" (1919)

 (Original Poem by Ada Tessibel Peters.) 
 In the year 1858 
 On a Virginian Plantation 
 Was born a babe who someday 
 Would walk and talk with nations 
 In his veins flowed the blood 
 Of Ethiopia's Noble Hearted Sons 
 Born 'midst slavery's mire and mud 
 A great leader of men had come. 
 In a rough hewn board hut 
 Booker saw the light of day 
 Blessed with a kind mother's trust 
 In her arms he fondly lay 
 His childish eyes did not gaze 
 Upon fine paintings on the wall 
 But watched little pickanninies play 
 While water in the kettle boiled. 
 The child of Nature boasted not 
 Of proud ancestory or titled kin 
 For bondage had fallen his lot 
 And four million of his fellow men 
 Deep in the heart of that boy 
 A spark of independence burned 
 Early losing the thrill for toys 
 Longing for a chance to learn. 
 Just before the dawn of day 
 When the world's lost in dream 
 The lad heard his mother pray 
 And there the truth was gleamed 
 From then was waged a battle 
 From then his life work begun 
 To enlighten the Human chattels 
 When 'ere the hour should come. 
 At last God heard the pleas 
 Of the four million humble souls 
 And suffered them to be free 
 To serve their God of old. 
 With the North and South's decision 
 The slave child's hope was realized 
 Going forth to prepare his mission 
 He bade his lowly habitat Goodbye. 
 Toiling through sunshine and rain 
 Working patiently in the salt mills, 
 Took unto himself a name 
 The proudest that history could give. 
 An unseen eye, saw a day 
 Drawing near; when the world's readers 
 Beholding his works would say 
 "He too, is Father of His People." 
 As in the days of old 
 Brave Romans with armors of steel 
 Met in the arena their foe 
 Either to kill, or be killed. 
 So with his schooling completed 
 Booker Washington, now went forth 
 To conquer or to be defeated 
 True to his boyhood oath. 
 His helmet the Word of God, 
 Freely given to those that ask 
 His sword a heart of love 
 And Divine truth, his only mask. 
 Thus clad in this court of mail 
 That protects the souls of men 
 On life's stormy sea set sail 
 To battle against fog and wind. 
 Ever in the quest of Knowledge 
 Took up the study of law 
 Entered the famous Hampton Institute 
 Preparing to stand in Congress Hall. 
 But providence had a Nobler Cause, 
 For this young man to pursue 
 Throwing down the books of law 
 Sought his works in fields anew. 
 It was then Tuskeege called him 
 At last had come the Morn, 
 To teach and defend his fellowmen 
 For which work he was born. 
 His soul urged him to go 
 He was filled with new zeal 
 Determined his Brothers should know 
 What it means, To Be Free. 
 Ever Onward, to reach higher ground 
 Helping 'all People to greater aim 
 The world in admiration now found 
 Dr. Washington, rightly chose, name. 
 Instructing the Negroes to buy land 
 To study the advantage of soil 
 Proving his theory with his hands 
 Showing the profit of honest toil. 
 In the pleas for his race 
 A great Orator, was made known 
 Sought not for a political place 
 Ever striving to help his own 
 Respected in courts of fame 
 Daily honored by rich and poor, 
 Popularity never made him vain 
 But was loved as, "Booker," of old. 
 Then God called his servant home 
 Called the Great Educator to rest 
 Leaving his friends to fight alone 
 To live forever with the Blest, 
 A lasting monument is left 
 In hearts of young and feeble 
 And though parted by death 
 He still is, Father of His People. 

Published in Peters Sisters, War Poems, 1919

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