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

Carrie Williams Clifford, "America" (1911)

America is not another name for opportunity
To all her sons! Nay, bid me not be dumb —
I will be heard. Christians, I come
To plead with burning eloquence of truth
A brother's cause; ay, to demand, forsooth,
The manhood rights of which he is denied;
Too long your pretense have your acts belied.

What has he done to merit your fierce hate?
I charge you, speak the truth; for know, his fate
Irrevocably is bound up with yours,
For good or ill, as long as time endures.
Torn from his native home by ruthless hands,
For centuries he tilled your fruitful lands,
In shameful, base, degrading slavery;
Your humble, patient, loyal vassal, he —
Piling your coffers high with magic gold,
Himself, the while, like cattle bought and sold.
 
When devastating war stalked through the land,
And dangers threatened you on every hand,
These sons whose color you cannot forgive.
Did freely shed their blood that you might live
A nation, strong and great. And will you then
Continue to debase, degrade, contemn
Your loyal children, while with smiling face
You raise disloyal ones to power and place?

Is race or color crime, that for this cause
You draft against the Negro unjust laws?
Is race or color sin that he should be
For these things treated so outrageously?
O, boastful, white American, beware!
It is the handiwork of God you dare
Thus to despise and He will you repay
With generous measure overflowing, yea,
For all the good which in his life you've wrought.
For helpful deed, or kindly, loving thought —
For every act of cruelty you've done,
For every groan which you have from him wrung.
For every infamy by him endured,
He will you all repay, be thou assured!
Not here alone ere time shall cease to be,
But likewise There, through all eternity. 

From Race Rhymes, 1911

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