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

Maurice Corbett, "Frederick Douglass" (1914)

Frederick Douglas.

A former slave at length was found,
Of judgment quick, of reason sound,
Of bearing grand, of spirit bold,
With character of the highest mould.
In speech, endowed with eloquence,
Which constantly he used against
That horrid form of knavery,
Practiced in human slavery.

When but a youth his heart rebelled
Against the thought of being held
In men's esteem as goods or chattel
Traded at will like common cattle.
He was not black, nor was he white
But of mixed blood, and sad his plight!
His father's name he dared to own;
His mother could bequeath him none.

He felt he had a right to be
Like his father's sons with wills aS free
To go and come, to think or do,
To give and take, to win or woo,
In his own way to worship God;
His course through life, unhampered, plod
By ardent toil to eminence,
In spite of adverse elements.

'Twas thus he reasoned night and day
Until at length, he planned the way
To break his bonds and hurriedly
To make a break for liberty.
Attempt he made and it was done,
Though in his flight, he had to run
The gauntlet made by legal lights
To bar black men from human rights.

At length his liberty was bought,
And his receptive mind was taught
The paths of knowledge, truth and right,
The weapons' needed in his fight
For manhood rights of colored men,
Which he long urged with tongue and pen,
Till men imbued with righteousness,
Would rise to lighten his distress.

The thunder of his mighty voice
Left honest men no other choice
As to what side they'd lend their aid,
In fierce fought contest to be made
To prove whether mankind should be
Held by this nation slave or free,
Or if the constitution lied
In its preamble amplified.

Through all the Northern states he went,
Arousing public sentiment
Till men beheld the grave mistake
Which people in the past did make,
Who held that Negroes never could
Possess themselves of fortitude,
And learning of sufficient weight
To gain attention in debate.

His soul aflame with fire seemed;
His eyes with inspiration gleamed;
His voice commanding, rich and deep ;
His gestures graceful in their sweep;
His stature noble, comely, grand;
His bearing princely, and his stand
For Negro freedom, fearless, bold;
His words spellbound his hearers hold.

But Douglass was not all alone
Amongst the Negroes who had shown
That learn could they like other mien
To speak with force, and wield the pen
With power, and with grace
And helping thereby much the case
Of those who argued 'twas a sin
To dwarf the intellects of men.

Bait through all sections of the North,
Enlightened blacks were springing forth
To fame and fortune, and whose deeds
Did wonders to uproot the seeds
Of thraldom on this continent,
And for the change of sentiment
More friendly to the Negro race
Then only subjects of disgrace.

Published in The Harp of Ethiopia, 1914

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