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

Joseph S. Cotter, Jr., "Tuskegee" (1918)


WHEREFORE this busy labor without
Is it an idle dream to which we cling, rest?
Here where a thousand dusky toilers sing
Unto the world their hope? “ Build we our best
By hand and thought, ” they cry, “although unblessed."
So the great engines throb and anvils ring,
And so the thought is wedded to the thing;
But what shall be the end, and what the test!
Dear God, we dare not answer, we can see
Not many steps ahead, but this we know
If all our toilsome building is in vain,
Availing not to set our manhood free,
If envious hate roots out the seed we sow,
The South will wear eternally a stain.

Published in The Band of Gideon, and Other Lyrics, 1918

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