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

Fenton Johnson, "War Profiles" (1918)


THE breath of the harvest is in the air. The boys of Ethiopia, khaki clad, are bidding farewell to the city of their love. They are swinging the corner to the tune of 

"John Brown's body lies a-mouldering in the grave, 
But his soul goes marching on."

We men and women of Ethiopia are waving handkerchiefs and moistening our cheeks with tear drops. It is farewell time for our young life. 

How many of these that walk so proudly behind the flag of Appomattox will the warm earth of France receive? How many will be dust to keep alive the lilies? 

Ethiopia is paying her debt to the nation that gave the world Dumas. 


Toussaint, old man of the mountains, is tramping the streets of Port au Prince.

"Whither do you go, Graybeard?" challenges the sentry. 

Toussaint's voice is soft and low.

"I go to arouse the sleeping men of Ethiopia. 

"This is the hour that tries the nations and the races. 

"War is a young man's glory, an old man's remembrance.

"France is bowed in desolation. To her I dedicate the young men of my blood that she might be saved from the claw of the vulture.

"Fear not, land that exalted Bonaparte! Toussaint hears thy call."


How desolate is State Street, now that war has come upon the land!

How desolate the Cabaret. Who can be gay now that the young are about to die? The pavement of a street that once held rendezvous with music is wet with tears of those who have given loved ones to the cause. 

No longer walk the merchant, lawyer, doctor, thief and toiler along the lighted path of this merry thoroughfare. The khaki makes all men one. 

Old men are peddling dreams of a new Ethiopia; old women and young women long for the laughter of State Street grown sober. 

On with lights! Death, the new jester, holds the heart of my people in the hollow of his hand. 


The Armory is silent beneath a firmament of gray. 

No longer the young men bombard its walls the laughter of youth. 

The young girls, brown as the autumn landscape or yellow as the noonday glow, pass by, lonely and dejected. 

How many Novembers, how many Decembers will die before laughter again runs riot?


God heard his children in the night.

God turned to him who sits on His right hand and said: 

"What is this, like the wailing of music, that reaches my throne? 

"'Tis the children of the oppressed crying for succor, I have heard their prayer night and day. 

"Ethiopia is in pain, Israel is bleeding, Poland is no more, India is weary of the strange gods that infest her groves. The tomb of my Son is desecrated and Jerusalem is the dwelling place of Gentiles.

"Man has grown arrogant. The beast on him is not yet dead.

"Go, Thou Angel of Wrath, into the four corners of the earth and spill the seeds of discord!

"Freedom shall prevail"

The Angel of Wrath is riding the winds of the earth. Look up, Ethiopia, and be comforted!

Published in The Crisis, June 1918

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