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

Maurice N. Corbett, "Lynching" (1914)

The howling wretch burnt at the stake,
With awe, the stoutest heart would shaKe,
The villain swung from limb of tree,
Presents a ghastly sight to see;
The creature foully shot to death
Should make good people gasp for breath;
The victims of the white-caps' ire
Should men with fierce resentment fire!

But sad as do these scenes appear
A sadder picture draw we here;
The people have religion spurned,
And on the goddess Justice turned
In ridicule;
Her scales they break,
And her avenging sword they take
And strike her, bleeding, to the ground
While Vice and Ruin dance around!

The burning victim spake no word,
But that heart-rending shriek you heard
Was but the wail of outraged law;
That dangling body which you saw
You thought was lynched on yonder's tree,
Was but the tattered drapery
Which did the sacred law adorn
Before 'twas crucified in scorn.

The blood of men and women, shot
Unlawfully by mobs, is not, 
(As horrifying as it seems),
One half so shocking as the streams
Of anguished blood from Justice's heart,
Which mobs and lynchers cause to start
Each time attempt they to correct
What they may term the law's defect.

A fiend the law doth violate,
A set of cutthroats delegate
Themselves the court of last resort
To which the culprit must report.
One criminal had we before
But now we have a hundred more;
The first knew he a wrong had done,
The last, so hardened, they see none.

From lynching for a nameless crime,
These bands began to lynch in time
For murder, arson, knavery,
Back-talk, assault and battery,
Horse stealing, vagrancy and debt,
A stolen calf, to win a bet,
For careless handling of a gun,
And finally, they lynch for fun.

The law an arrant coward stands;
Thrice stabbed, it raiseth not its hands,
But like a spaniel flogged, it whines,
And, with its bleeding arms, entwines
Its persecutors, It fails to act
To keep its self-respect in tact,
While in contempt the lawless hoot,
And men who cross them, hang, and shoot.

Published in The Harp of Ethiopia, 1914

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