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

Maurice Corbett, "Negroes Denied the Right to Enlist" (1914)

Negroes Denied the Right to Enlist.

In front of those enlistment stations
Daily, the Negro stood in patience
Asking that he should have the right
The nation's haughty foes to fight.
Now were his prayers for aid denied
And he was rudely thrust aside
And told to mind his business, for
The struggle was a "white-man's war."

    And, seemingly that was the fact,
For whether states could break the pact
Which linked them in confederation,
And set up a separate nation,
Or whether once a government
Was formed by conquest or consent
Ne'er could there be a dissolution

Unless it came by revolution.
Was held by men to be enough
To cause the use of sterner stuff
Than argument, and resolution,
Or digests on the constitution,
To prove that not an inch they'd yield,
But on the bloody battle field,
With sword and gun and cannon shell
They'd die for cause they loved so well.

No living statesman had the thought
That in this conflict they'd be brought
To answer if this land should be
From slavery forever free.
Nor would the whites have left their farms
And factories, to take up arms,
Soon to be filling heroes' graves,
If they had known they fought for slaves.

But God moves in mysterious ways
That men may on his wonders gaze.
With wings, he clothes the lowly worm,
And speaks to earth in howling storm.
He bends the lightning to his will,
He bids, and angry winds are still;
He frowns, and earth begins to quake;
He wills, and worlds from nothing wake.

His purposes He keeps concealed,
Until by acts they are revealed.
He willed that slavery should go,
In spite of all that men could do;
That men might strive in every way
To bar the Negroes from: the fray,
But that conditions would arise
That would demand their services.

Published in The Harp of Ethiopia, 1914

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