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

Maurice Corbett, "Negro Labor Changed Dixie" (1914)

Negro Labor Changed Dixie.

Have we considered what has brought
The changes which we see are wrought
Within the South in forty years,
Which like a fairy tale appears?
Was it produced by magic wands.
Or came the change by horny hands
Of toil, with zest and will applied
Till the bleeding South is beautified?

Labor is health, the doctor cries;
Labor is wealth, the earth replies;
Labor is monarch of the earth,
Labor is life and joy, and mirth,
Labor is rich blood of the nation,
Labor defined means civilization,
Labor is God's best gift to man,
Save Jesus and redemption's plan.

The man that labors adds to health,
And by his labor pileth wealth;
This rule unto the South applied
Leaves us but one thing to decide:
That since the Negroes' daily toil
To extract yield from fertile soil,
In every sovereign Southern state,
'Tis they, the South do renovate.

Was slavery but the black man's tool
His all-important training- school,
His safe and sure foundation stone,
For base of structure of his own,
For without aught was he set free
But held to labor's legacy;
Though owning not a foot of soil,
Rich was he found in art of toil.

As toilers in the Southern heat
No laborers can with them compete;
No task so hard, no day so long,
That it disturbs their mirth and song;
No race so readily as they
Do their employers' laws obey;
No other working men would live
Upon the wages they receive.

No set of men, no other race,
When placed within a trusted place,
With every chance a wrong to do,
As have they been, have proved as -true.
Are Negroes hired on large plantations
Upon their own recommendations;
And, be it known that just a few,
Unto their trusts are found untrue.

Why, one a home will get today,
And on the morrow he will say,
Without the slightest hesitation:
"Our crops, our house and our plantation."
In one day's time his tender heart,
In "boss's" interest feels a part,
And he will labor night and day
To drive all enemies away.

He who with eloquence of mouth
The praises heralds of the South,
For rapid strides in life's, great race,
But somehow fails, to give a place
Of praise to what the blacks have done,
Will find, before his course is run,
While traveling o'er familiar route,
That half the story is left out.

Accustomed as he'd grown to be
To hardships and adversity,
Since, had he entered freedom's ark,
No phase of life to him seemed dark,
But worked he with celerity,
To leave to his posterity,
Not laborer's legacy alone,
But something real to call his own.

Published in The Harp of Ethiopia, 1914

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