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

Richard E.S. Toomey, "To the Shade of Douglass" (1901)

 O, grand old man, of massive brow; 
 O, Douglass, how we miss thee now! 
 Thy words, like trumpet notes so clear, 
 Were wont to ope the deafened ear. 
As in the lists, the knights of old, 
 With weapon keen and forefront bold, 
 Stood ready to defend their cause, 
 As custom was with feudal laws; 
 So, with bold heart, conviction strong, 
 Thou fought and battled 'gainst the wrong; 
 Thy weighty cause 'mid thousands plead, 
 When human rights lay bleeding, dead. 
 Thy lance-like wit, thy thought profound, 
 Thy words, wherein truth did abound, 
 Made scales fall from bedarkened eyes, 
 The corpse of human rights to rise. 
 Thy days, thy years, how useful spent, 
 Since first to Freedom's clime thou went; 
 Thy life, devoted to thy race, 
 Plowed manly furrows on thy face. 
 Thy work, long ere thy spirit fled, 
 Had bleached pure white thy noble head; 
 A rev' rent mark to crown thy worth— 
 Of him, grown great from slavish birth! 
 So great, so noble was thy life, 
 Thy powers grown full strong through strife, 
 That none, whoe'er thy brow did scan, 
 Dared say aught else, than " Here's a Man." 
The thought, thou was't a man thyself, 
 Satest not; nor moved by fear nor pelf, 
 Thou sought for each man of thy race 
 On manhood's plain, his rightful place. 
 Who would to us judgment extend, 
 Thou badest, whether foe or friend, 
 "Judge not, from great heights climbed by some, 
 But by the depths from which we come! "
 Thou urged thy race its darkness shift 
 By sturdy labor and by thrift; 
 Thou showedst to it, its friends, its foes, 
 That in whom high ambition glows 
 No depth so deep but he will dive, 
 No heights, but where he may arrive; 
 Thus prove what others do, he can; — 
 So demonstrate himself a man. 
 Thy words, undying, with us live; 
 Thy precepts, inspiration give; 
 Thy earnest claim, " Negroes are men," 
 We still hold true as thou held then. 
 Some of this race which thou didst love, 
 For which with Titan effort strove, 
 Seek Progress by such devious ways 
 As have brought us on " Evil days." 
Oh, thou departed spirit, great, 
 If still familiar with its state 
 And hath influence in affairs, 
 See its sore needs and hear our prayers! 
 The need is, men or man who may 
 Meet the requirements of to-day, — 
 Command respect from every race, 
 Yet clog not our advancement's pace. 
 Oh, let thy wisdom's mantle fall 
 Upon some few if not on all, 
 That these may, then, true leaders be, — 
 Take up the work laid down by thee! 
 This do, and then again shall rise, 
 Like incense to the bending skies, — 
 The just spirit, humane intent, 
 Which once imbued the Government. 
 Oh, may the race for which thou wrought 
 Cling fast to what thy precepts taught, — 
 Inspire its children with the same, 
 And hold thee, Douglass, dear to fame! 

Published in Richard E.S. Toomey, Thoughts for True Americans (1901)

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