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

Frances E.W. Harper, "The Martyr of Alabama" (1895)

The Martyr of Alabama.

[Author's note: The following news item appeared in the newspapers throughout the country, issue of December 27th, 1894:

“Tim Thompson, a little negro boy, was asked to dance for the amusement of some white toughs. He refused, saying he was a church member. One of the men knocked him down with a club and then danced upon his prostrate form. He then shot the boy in the hip. The boy is dead: his murderer is still at large.”]

He lifted up his pleading eyes,
And scanned each cruel face,
Where cold and brutal cowardice
Had left its evil trace.

It was when tender memories
Round Beth’lem’s manger lay,
And mothers told their little ones
Of Jesu’s natal day.

And of the Magi from the East
Who came their gifts to bring,
And bow in rev’rence at the feet
Of Salem’s new-born King.

And how the herald angels sang
The choral song of peace,
That war should close his wrathful lips,
And strife and carnage cease.

At such an hour men well may hush
Their discord and their strife,
And o’er that manger clasp their hands
With gifts to brighten life.

Alas! that in our favored land,
That cruelty and crime
Should cast their shadows o’er a day,
The fairest pearl of time.

A dark-browed boy had drawn anear
A band of savage men,
Just as a hapless lamb might stray
Into a tiger’s den.

Cruel and dull, they saw in him
For sport an evil chance,
And then demanded of the child
To give to them a dance.

“Come dance for us,” the rough men said;
“I can’t,” the child replied,
“I cannot for the dear Lord’s sake,
Who for my sins once died.”

Tho’ they were strong and he was weak,
He wouldn’t his Lord deny.
His life lay in their cruel hands,
But he for Christ could die.

Heard they aright? Did that brave child
Their mandates dare resist?
Did he against their stern commands
Have courage to resist?

Then recklessly a man (?) arose,
And dealt a fearful blow.
He crushed the portals of that life,
And laid the brave child low.

And trampled on his prostrate form,
As on a broken toy;
Then danced with careless, brutal feet,
Upon the murdered boy.

Christians! behold that martyred child!
His blood cries from the ground;
Before the sleepless eye of God,
He shows each gaping wound.

Oh! Church of Christ arise! arise!
Lest crimson stain thy hand,
When God shall inquisition make
For blood shed in the land.

Take sackcloth of the darkest hue,
And shroud the pulpits round;
Servants of him who cannot lie
Sit mourning on the ground.

Let holy horror blanch each brow,
Pale every cheek with fears,
And rocks and stones, if ye could speak,
Ye well might melt to tears.

Through every fane send forth a cry,
Of sorrow and regret,
Nor in an hour of careless ease
Thy brother’s wrongs forget.

Veil not thine eyes, nor close thy lips,
Nor speak with bated breath;
This evil shall not always last,—
The end of it is death.

Avert the doom that crime must bring
Upon a guilty land;
Strong in the strength that God supplies,
For truth and justice stand.

For Christless men, with reckless hands,
Are sowing round thy path
The tempests wild that yet shall break
In whirlwinds of God’s wrath.


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