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

Charles Frederick White, "Plea of the Negro Soldier" (1907/1908)


("A Powerful Poem and Foreboding"—Republican.)
Published in Springfield Republican, Feb. 16, 1907. Copied by Boston Guardian.]

America, ungrateful land!
Whose treacherous soil my blood has dyed,
Whose wealth my father's shackled hand
Has hoarded up, who has denied
Me right to live, to vote, to learn,
Whose laws protect me not from wrong,
Who will permit me not to earn
An honest living, who in song
Doth boast a land of freedom, but
Whose flag waves o'er a land of crime,
The makers of whose laws unjust
Themselves are stained with blood and slime
Of murders, lynchings, rape and lies,
And who, while yet the sacred oath
Of office on their vile lips lies,
Will lead a mob of comrades forth
To take some negro, innocent,
Accused perhaps, but never tried,
From custody of government
And burn him, to a pillar tied,
I fear the dawning of thy doom:
I hear the voice of justice cry
From out this wilderness of gloom:
I see the dark clouds in thy sky.

From Boston massacre, my blood
Through all the channels of thy war
Has mingled with thy crimson flood;
Through Yorktown, Erie, Wagner,—far
To El Caney and San Juan Hill,
Where, midst the charges awful din,
With song our voice the air did fill
And make that song a battle hymn.—

The Philippines, so dearly bought,
Are strewn with bodies of my kin;
My comrades have thy glory wrought
In war, in peace, with skill and vim.
'Twas I who rescued from the urn
Of death thy fickle soldier chief;
Tis he who gives me in return
Disgrace, dishonor, no relief
From poverty my feeble years
Must bring me soon; he who deprives
Me of support retirement rears
Up for her faithful soldiers' lives.
My thirty years of living death
In bloody war avail me naught
When prejudice and perjured breath
Of Brownsville 'gainst my name is brought.
And dost thou yet, ungrateful land
Expect my blood and kin to stand
In cowered silence, while thy hand
Continues to despoil our band?
May God forbid that of my race
A single child shall e'er disgrace
His native land, the resting place
Of martyred kin, by fear to face
Injustice by whomever thrown.
The ancient Plebeians of Rome
For treatment such renounced their home
And sought the Sacred Mountain's dome.

The colonies of George the Third
To less injustice war preferred
And fired,—the while the world concurred,—
The shot which round the earth was heard.
Republic cannot long endure
When autocrat can feel secure
To heap injustice on the poor
Or helpless; ruin follows sure.
Three centuries have near rolled by
Since first our fathers' mournful cry
And clank of chains rose to thy sky,
Nor yet have found just cause to die.
Our voice of protest shall not cease
Until thy unjust bonds release
Our rights, that our lives may increase
In riches, happiness and peace.
But I, alas! have given all
In answer to thy urgent call,
Exposed my life to sword and ball,
And now, as o'er me creeps the fall
Of life, I find no recompense
But base discharge, with no defense
Through which to prove my innocence,
Though I've committed no offense.
For this I've given up my home
O'er hapless battle-fields to roam,
I've crossed the ocean's hungry foam,
I've fought disease in hostile loam.
O God of justice and of right!
If thou art deaf and hast no sight,
Lend me Thy weapons and Thy might,
That this last battle I may fight.

Feb., 1907.

Published in Springfield Republican, Feb. 16, 1907. Copied by Boston Guardian.
Also published in Plea of the Negro Soldier: And a Hundred Other Poems, 1908


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