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

Maurice N. Corbett, "The Mob Spirit" (1914)

The Mob Spirit.

And still the drowsy nation sleeps,
While men and women slain in heaps
Appease the passions of the mob,
Who, deaf to pity, groan, or sob,
The soldiers' muskets brush aside
And minions of the law deride,
And men and women, innocent
Of any crime, to death are sent.
The humble black in lowly hut
Asleep with doors and windows shut,
Is stifled by the fumes of smoke
And as he wakes receives the stroke
Of death, though nothing has he done
Deserving it, bait that some one
Said to be black, commits a deed,
And then escapes, must this man bleed.
Another, guilty said to be,
Is bound securely to a tree;
And though he swears he's innocent,
His murderers, with hearts of flint,

Heap round his body wood and thatch
While standing with a lighted match
Is seen a woman's garb and form,
With woman's instinct glimmering gone.
Within that God-forsaken throng
Are seen the aged and the strong,
The beardless youth, the tender child,
The brazen maid, with shouts as wild
And heart as black as hardened men,
With patches of the victim's skin
As souvenirs, in high glee borne
Her quiet bedroom to adorn.
No tears of pity Wet the cheek
When there is heard the piercing shriek
Wrung from the victim, as the fire
Upon his person creepeth higher;
But louder grows the frenzied shout
Of those hyenas round about;
And blacker grows their callous hearts:
As o'er that wretch the fire darts.
Ye who of heathen tortures rant,
Stop criticising, drop your cant;
Behold the Christian's; model plan
Of torturing his fellowman!
See what they hold before the gaze
Of other nations ; hear him praise
The equal justice of his laws
Midst thunders of the mob's applause!

Ye Gods! What savage orgories
Are equal to such scenes as these?
*The preacher clad in sacred gown
Incites the mob to batter down
The prison doors, and leader stood
Of those who thirsted for the blood
Of one committed to the law
Though blacker wretch none ever saw.
No living man should raise a breath
Of protest at a villain's death,
Whose wanton violence would dare
Attempt to outrage virtue fair.
A beast incased in human form,
A serpent vile, a filthy worm,
A thing too foul on earth to dwell
Whose domicile should be in hell!!
But who shall take that life away?
What tribune has a right to say
How he should die? By whose decree
Must he in horror roasted be?
Whence came the power of the court
Which for his death decides to vote?
Will some one state the place and time
'Twas proved that crime was cured by crime?

Author's Note: 
*A preacher harangued the mob to violence
from his pulpit, seized a torch and led the mob
in the Wilmington, Del., riot in which a Negro
was roasted at the stake.

Published in The Harp of Ethiopia, 1914

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