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

Charles Frederick White, "A Historical Review" (1899/1908)


In fourteen hundred ninety-two
America was found
And olden theory proved untrue—
That earth was square, not round.
In fourteen-ninety-seven, then,
John Cabot started out,
Resolving straight across to wend,
And shortened much the route.
In 1506 Columbus died,
A prisoner in chains,
Although for several years he'd cried
For freedom from these pains.
In fifteen hundred sixty-five
St. Augustine was rounded,
And ever since has stood and thrived,
Though centuries have rounded.
In 1607 Jamestown's homes
Appeared among the wild—
And here begins a tale of woe
Of this land's orphan child.
In 1619 Slavery's wrong
Disgraced our country's page

And made a blot so deep and long,
'Twill last through countless age.
In seventeen hundred seventy-five,
Oppressed by English law,
The colonists a plan contrived
To wage a freedom's war.
In 1781 they gained
The object of their strife;
Ungratefully they tighter chained
The slave to misery's life.

In '70 brave Attuck shed
His life-blood in the fight,
The first of all this country's dead
To die for freedom's right.
E'er since, in all this nation's wars,
The Negro's played great part,
Glad always to defend her cause
From depth of his brave heart.

In '65 he fought the South
To save the nation's name:
An accident which came about
Freed him from slavery's chain.
Two hundred years, and more, they'd kept
Him 'neath this cruel rake,

The while the nation's conscience slept;
Nor did it once awake
Until secession's mighty gun
At Bull Run so did pelt her
That she, alarmed, compelled, did run
To Washington for shelter.
'Twas then the thought within her mind
Occurred to free the slave,
If, by this action, she could find
A mode her name to save.
Thus, now, you see, the orphan's free,
So far as slavery's counted,
Yet he is burned, and hanged to tree,
And chased by fiends well-mounted,
Accused of crime, though innocent,
He's tortured with strange pleasure:
The wailings of his soul are lent
To swell her song's blank measure.
Since he was freed he has progressed
And all the world astounded,
For never have other men possessed
Such intellect unbounded.
Though hearts of stone and calumny
Will persecute and murder,
He bears his cross to Calvary,
Nor falls beneath his burden.

In '98 he volunteered
To fight for human cause
In foreign land, yet, while he steered
His son or brother was
Strung up to tree, or stake, or post
And tortured, cut and burned
And sold by pieces to a host
Of dastard hearts which turned
To look upon such awful sights,
Unequaled on this earth
By cannibals or savage rites,
With coolness and with mirth.
At El Caney and San Juan
He faced the poisoned lead
And victory brought from among
Defeat and heaps of dead.
He lay in trench, in mud and mire,
Through rain, heat and disease,
Nor ever once expressed desire
That awful place to leave.
O'er dead Caucasian boys he rushed,
O'er some crouched down with fears,
While from his wounds his warm blood gushed
And mingled with their tears
He cut the barbed wire fences down
Which did impede his way
And stormed blockhouses on the crown
Of hills; thus gained the day.
He cried when he was not allowed
To enter in the city
The same day that up hill he plowed,
And thought it a great pity
That he might not pursue the foe
Into his place of refuge
And strike at once the final blow,
Thus end the war's grim deluge.
He also garrisoned the land
His bravery had conquered
And made a record which will stand
Among the world's most honored.

And now that war is waxing hot
In far off Philippines,
And boys of lighter hue do not
Equal their task, it seems,
There's been some talk of sending there
To bring things to a close,
This orphan child of curly hair,
Broad mouth and flattened nose.
In southern part of this "free" land
He's not allowed to vote:
They've tied our Constitution's hand
So that he might be smote.
If he, perchance, commit a crime,
He's hanged 'thout court proceedings;
His guiltless kin, too, at the time
Are killed, despite their pleadings.
He's guiltless oft of crime alleged,
(Which often has been proven,)
But fiends their wealth and life have pledged
To stagnate law's just movement.
Will someone lend a helping hand,
Or sympathizing heart,
Or honor pledge and life to stand
For right on this child's part?
O, human beings of this earth,
Arouse your dormant sense
Of right, give merit its true worth
And claim your recompense!

Sept., 1899.

Published in Plea of the Negro Solder: And a Hundred Other Poems, 1908 

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