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

Benjamin Griffith Brawley, "The Freedom of the Free" (1913)

When the people of Jehovah to the promised land would go,
They were shown a valiant leader for the conflict with the foe;
But they wandered many weary years and faced the raging sea,
Ere their children won the harvest of the Freedom of the Free.

When the black men of the wilderness were wanted of the Lord,
From America to Europe flashed the word with one accord;
and the Christian nations hankered for the glitter of the gain,
While the screaming of the eagle dulled the clinking of the chain.

But the captive on the slaver's deck beneath the lightning's flash--
Unto him were only scourging and the stinging of the lash;
But such things as these must be, they say, and such the pruning be,
Ere our children win the harvest of the Freedom of the Free. 

Far across the deep Atlantic speeds the vessel on tis way,
And the nights are wild with weeping and the days are tempests gray,
Till at length within the glory of the dawn the shore appears
And the slave takes up the burden and the battle of the years.

In the fury of the auction runs the clamor on and on: 
'Going! Going! Who bids higher? Going! Going! Going! Gone!' 
And the mocking bird is singing, and the lilies dance in glee,
And the slave alone is sighing for the Freedom of the Free.

Now the wide plantation shimmers in the freshness of the morn,
And the dusky workers catter through the cotton and the corn
With the problem of the ages in the yearning of their eyes,
While the slave whip sings forever underneath the azure skies.

In the silence of the night and from the weird assembled throng
Comes the beauty and the wailing of the dirge and Sorrow Song;
'I've been listenin' all the night long for to hear the sinner pray;
I've been waitin' all the night long for the breakin' of the day.'

Till at length from Maine to Mexico peals forth the trumpet blast,
And a wild expectant nation at the fury stands aghast;
While the young men in their glory feel the fever of the fight,

In the crimson of the carnage, in the deluge of the flame,
come the black men to the trenches for the honor and the fame;
And they sell their hearts' blood dearly for humanity's decree,
That their songs should have the Promise of the Freedom of the Free.

Now a nation's second birthday blossoms from the gloom of night,
And a people stands bewildered at the dawning of the light; 
But the untried hands are willing, and the hearts are ever true
To the call of house and country and the faith the fathers knew.

But the tempter whispers ever with monotnonous refrain,
That the struggle and the striving and the faith are all in vain;
But from woodland wold and mountain peak eternal years reply:
'Better live to fight like brave men than like coward slaves to die.'

Let us heed no tale of Anak or Philistine in the land;
Let us hear the word from Sinai and Jehovah's high command;
Worship not the Golden Calf nor unto Baal bend the knee,
That our sons may rise triumphant in the Freedom of the Free. 
And the blood drops of the firstborn stain the doorposts in the night.

Published in The Crisis, November 1913

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