African American Poetry (1870-1926): A Digital Anthology

L. Mattes, "To the Negro" (1925)

You black slave
In the land of the Right,
In the land of the Free,
To you I raise my voice.
You. cotton-picker in swampy Mississippi,
You cane-cutter in smothering Louisiana,
You mud-digger, hod-carrier,
You harvest-hand, mill-hand, dock-hand,
Laborer!
You,
Who gave to the skyscraper your toil and sweat
And to the subway all your breath;
You,
Who laid the shining tracks the States around
And brought forth riches from underground
For the good of Men.
In slums you live,
In indigence you multiply.
Yet,
With head stiff and high on the watch you stand,
Swinging doors wide open,
Giving a hand to the noble rich.

O, slave,
You slave!
Out of the night I heard you call.
On the cross-ways
I have met your children weeping in bitterness;
Did the mother abandon her children
As the shepherd deserted his sheep?
Why do you roam at this hour?
Who is seeking your eyc?

I know!
Out of the dark comes the light,
And this I say to you:
Escape not!
Open your eyes,
Look back and see
The stern mask of the lynched chiseled in agony.
And here—
Turn your face-
Observe:
The drunken beast chasing your father,
Its prey.
And your brother dipped in tar,
Befeathered—
Heed his expiring cry
“God, my God, why hast me, why?”
Thou forsaken

Fear not!
Curse not!
But like a phantom in the night
Bring before their sight:
The Slain,
The Suffering,
The Lame—
THEIR BEASTLY, BLOODY HANDS, THEIR SHAME!

Arise, You slave!
Behold:
Two chariots come racing.
The chariot with the black horses carries oppression;
The chariot with the red horses carries revolt.
Hear the hoofs in flight.
Know:
The race is yours;
The prize is—
LIBERTY!

Hark:
I know the day,
And I know it’s near.
Lift your head.
And as the swaying bells in the blazing night
SOUND YOUR VOICE WITHOUT FRIGHT—
Be brave!
And with the legions of the right
Set yourself free,
Slave!


Published in The Crisis, June 1925

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