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

James Weldon Johnson, "The Color Sergeant" (1917)

(_On an Incident at the Battle of San Juan Hill_)

    Under a burning tropic sun,
    With comrades around him lying,
    A trooper of the sable Tenth
    Lay wounded, bleeding, dying.

    First in the charge up the fort-crowned hill,
    His company's guidon bearing,
    He had rushed where the leaden hail fell fast,
    Not death nor danger fearing.

    He fell in the front where the fight grew fierce,
    Still faithful in life's last labor;
    Black though his skin, yet his heart as true
    As the steel of his blood-stained saber.

    And while the battle around him rolled,
    Like the roar of a sullen breaker,
    He closed his eyes on the bloody scene,
    And presented arms to his Maker.

    There he lay, without honor or rank,
    But, still, in a grim-like beauty;
    Despised of men for his humble race,
    Yet true, in death, to his duty.

Published in Fifty Years and Other Poems (1917)

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