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

Carrie Williams Clifford, "Atlanta's Shame" (1911)

Editor's Note

In queenly state she sits at the gateway of the South —
   And lifts with conscious pride her stately head :
Fair Atlanta feels her worth, and her children are elate,
   As thro' her streets they go with happy tread.

She has sons of many kinds, she has sons of many hues,
   And she says she cares for all, but this we know,
Tho' she exacts of each alike service, revenue, respect,
   The blacks get of her favor but scant show!

Yet the harder do they strive her good will and grace to win.
   Keeping step with progress — forward without pause!
Gaining knowledge, getting wealth, doing all things duly meet.
   Hoping thus to gain Atlanta's prized applause.

But alas! 'tis all in vain, for she hates with bitter hate
   These poor blacks who aye remind her of her shames;
Of her greed for wealth and power, of her base consuming lust:
   Noble striving but the more her wrath inflames.

Then to hide from honest eyes her blood-guiltiness and sin,
   She most cunningly contrives a wicked plot —
Subtly spoken a base word, then this cry against the blacks
   Cleaves the night ! "Revenge! lynch, slaughter and spare not!"

Three awful nights she reveled in a carnival of crime,
   Three days or e'er the tension was relieved;
When her thirst for blood was sated, the whole nation stood aghast.
   Her cry of "Rape," no more the world deceived!

Lamentations, bitter sobs, heart-wrung groans the soft winds bore
   Thro' the streets where lay the victims of her rage;
Helpless age and guiltless youth, innocence and trusting truth —
   It had taken all, her fury to assuage.

Dread Atlanta nevermore can the crimson stain erase,
   Nor the foul blot wipe from off fair history's scroll ;
This fell deed shall e'er arise, ghost-like from the mists of time
   To confront and terrify her guilty soul!

Published in Race Rhymes, 1911

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