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

Olivia Ward Bush Banks, "A Hero of San Juan [Hill]" (1899)

Editor's Note


Among the sick and wounded ones,
  This stricken soldier boy lay,
With glassy eye and shortened breath;
  His life seemed slipping fast away.
My heart grew faint to see him thus,
  His dark brown face so full of pain,
I wondered if the mother's eyes
  Were looking for her boy in vain.

I bent to catch his feeble's words:
  "I am so ill and far from home.
I feel so strange and lonely here;
  You seem a friend, I'm glad you've come.

"I want to tell you how our boys
  Went charging on the enemy.
'Twas when we climbed up Juan's hill;
  And there we got the victory.

"The Spaniards poured a heavy fire;
  We met it with a right good will.
We saw the Seventy-first fall back,
  And then our boys went up the hill.

"Yes, up the hill, and gained it, too;
  Not one brave boy was seen to lag.
Old Glory o'er us floating free,
  We'd gladly died for that old flag."

His dim eye brightened as he spoke;
  He seemed unconscious of his pain;
In fancy on the battlefield
  He lived that victory o'er again.

And I; I seemed to grasp it, too,–
  The stalwart form, the dusky face
Of those black heroes, climbing up
  To win fair glory for their race.

The Spaniards said that phalanx seemed
  To move like one black, solid wall;
They flung defiance back at Death,
  And, answering to that thrilling call,

They fought for Cuban liberty.
  On Juan's hill those bloody stains
Mark how these heroes won the day
  And added honor to their names.

March on, dark sons of Afric's race,
  Naught can be gained by standing still;
Retreat not, 'quit yourselves like men
  And, like these heroes, climb the hill,

Till pride and prejudice shall cease;
  Till racial barriers are unknown.
Attain the heights where over all,
  Equality shall sit enthroned.

Published in "Original Poems," 1899

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