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

Olivia Ward Bush-Banks, "Unchained 1863" (1914)


O'er the land, a hush had fallen,
   Hearts Thrilled expectantly,
Till from twice two million voices,
   Rang the glad cry, "We are free!"
Then the whole world caught the echo,
   "We are free! Yes! We are free!"

What a dawning from the midnight!
   What a day of jubilee!
Twas the New Year's song of triumph,
   That they sang so joyously,
Till it echoed and re-echoed
   "We are free! Yes! We are free!"

From the voice of one brave woman,
   Who, in human sympathy,
With a pen of love and pity
   Wrote the wrongs of slavery,
Came the glad new cry of triumph,
   "They are free! Yes! They are free!"

And the freedmen, still rejoicing,
   Sang of John Brown's victory,
Sang of Lincoln's Proclamation,
   Saying, "These have made us free."
Sumner, Garrison, and Phillips,
   All too fought to make us free.

Then the joyous song grew louder,
   By that price of loyalty,
Paid by us with our best lifeblood,
   We attest that we are free!
On the battle-field with honor,
   Our own blood has made us free."

Free indeed, but free to struggle,
   Free to toil unceasingly,
Naught of wealth, naught of possession,
   Was their portion, e'en tho' free;
But they faltered not, they failed not,
   Saying ever, "We are free!"

For their rightful place contending,
   They foresaw their destiny,
And they pleaded, never ceasing,
   "Give us opportunity!"
"Give us justice, recognition,
   'Tis our right! for we are free!"

From the lips of Frederic Douglass,
   Came these words of loyalty,
"Judge not harshly these my people,
   This is but their infancy,
From the depths they have ascended,
   Give them rights, for they are free!"

After years of ceaseless striving,
   Struggling for the mastery,
Over self and ill conditions,
   Still they're singing, "We are free!"
By the virtue of our struggle,
   We shall reap our destiny.

Though we suffer, in our freedom,
   By the hand of cruelty,
In the lawlessness of Evil,
   God is just, and we are free;
Life and love, not woe or slaughter,
   Are the birthright of the free.

When by prejudice untrammeled,
   Rich in manly liberty,
We receive that recognition
   Rightly given to the free,
Then the whole world shall proclaim it,
   "Free indeed! Yes! Ye are free!"

Published in Driftwood, 1914

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