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

Charles Frederick White, "To Chicago" (1907)


Chicago, mistress of the lakes,
Controller of our inland trade,
The freest city of our states,
What wondrous strides thy fame has made!
The century has yet one-fourth
Its years to register with time
Since from an humble Negro's hearth
Thou started on thy upward climb;
From farm to Indian trading-post,
To Dearborn's fort, to thriving town,
To city, till now thou canst boast
Of prestige, glory and renown,
When dreadful fire laid waste thy land
Thy courage took a deeper drill
And sank its roots beneath the sand,
And since that time has said, "I will."
As if from magic rose thy blocks
Like mountains towering to the skies;
The lake birds crowded to thy docks;
And o'er thy arms of steel and ties
Came people, money, shops and mills,
Came grain and livestock; 'cross thy plain
Came wagons from the eastern hills;
And from the South, to breathe again
The air of freedom and of life,
Came sons of Africa, escaped
From chains of slavery's deadly strife,
And drank the pure air of the lake.
Oft since Fred Douglass thou hast heard,
A Ransom shielded with thy walls,
A Morris hast thou given birth;
Another Morris filled thy halls
With melodies and music sweet.
Abe Lincoln, once, oft came and went
From hall of statehouse to thy street:
And now a Douglass settlement
Has graced thy great community,
Has hurled its challenge through the land,
Determined with impunity
For equal rights to all to stand.
A Justice Harlan is thy son,
A Celia Parker Woolly, thine,
A Marshall Field,— whose race is run,—
And many of illustrious line.
Thou city of an Indian swamp,
My second birth thou gavest me:
As through thy long streets I did romp
I breathed thy spirit deep and free.
From thee I learned my lessons first
Of worldly care, of manly strife;
From thee I partly quenched my thirst
For knowledge and the greater life.
I've wandered through thy groves and parks,
Thy boulevards and avenues;
I've watched the sailing of thy barks
And mingled with the busy crews;
I've seen thy buildings rent with fire;
I've seen thy towering structures rise,
Each vieing to extend the higher,
In climbing upward toward the skies.
Thou city on a sand-bar made,
I've seen thy wealth and people grow
To double in one short decade;
I've felt thy piercing, cold winds blow;
Oh city of the pioneer,
I love thee for thy great, free heart;
Thou art my foster-mother, dear,
And I am of thyself a part.
Dec., 1907.

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