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

Yetta Kay Stoddard, "E Pluribus Unum" (1920)

My small, eight-year grandson, Jim,
Trembling here beside my knee,
Stood with tearful, wide eyes dim, fixed hard on me,
Asking, "Gran, am I not American,
Like you?
The boys say I'm just Irish. Is it true?"
"Not true, my little man. You are all American !"
I soothed him till his patriotic pain
Was eased, and he could smile again.
"But how shall I explain!"
He questioned. "I want to tell Bim Winthrop and the rest,
My folks are just as good as theirs,—the best!"
"What was Washington, dear lad?"
"English, wasn't he? At least, his dad?"
"And what were Jefferson, the Adamses, Monroe,
Lincoln, Garfield, Roosevelt?"
"I know!"
He shouted. "They were all mixed up, like me,
Dutch and Irish, Scotch and French. What is it, Gran, to be
Plain American? Can I, Flynn's Jim,
Be that?"
I could not answer him
At once. I was thinking of my Jim,
Best American I ever saw,
To whom this nation's sacred principles were holy law,
This boy's grandsire, whose desire
To protect his dusky brothers was a fire—
Purest fire of heart's devotion; whose high pride
Carried him on War's red tide
Into Gettysburg's white flame, leaving me a widowed bride.
I was thinking of Young Jim,
Late man-grown, high-headed, slim,
Gone to war, as his Father Jim had done.
Of the two-and-twenty thousand who fell in and near Argonne,

One of those who now is sleeping in Romagne.
(News from Argonne snapped the slender thread of life
Of his fragile English-Dutch young wife.)
And his little English-Dutch, Irish-Jew American,
His own son,
Had not known
He could call this land his own!
Had not realized his heritage, his right.
"Light!" and "Light!"
I whispered, praying. "Light to make him certain, sure,
That his lineage is pure."
"Dear," I said aloud, "You must be so nobly proud,
You must so love Liberty that to this land of the free
Naught of wrong through you shall be.
In your veins is a mixed tide:
Irish, English, Dutch, beside
Just a little touch of Jew, to teach ancient pain to you.
I, old Gran, am indeed American,
For I came of a long line pure as Alden's wife's. (Fine,
Stern, clean, firm; unyielding as the rocks,
Were our old New England stocks;
Yet what a shut-in land 'twould be,
Made up but of such as we!)
I was honored, blest, to win
This name that Grandpa gave me, Mrs. Flynn.
My Flynn's Jim!
Would America had millions like to him!
He was big and he was true. He was true because he knew
Truth's deep roots, where'er they grew,
He taught me, as I, Young Jim— and you:
Truth is many, Truth is one;
And he showed me how alone this America has grown
Fairest champion of Truth the world has known;
How the peoples of all lands
Have fared forth from many strands,
Black, brown, palefaced sons and daughters,
Dared the Seven Seas' threatening waters;
Have Come here with strength, fire, youth,
Understanding, loving Truth;
Have wrought here with hearts, brains, hands;
Fought to plant Truth here.
Now, Flynn's Jim,
You go back to Winthrop's Bim,
Show the other boys and him,
You are all Americans as you fit in with old plans
To set Truth so firmly here,
It shall grow from year to year,
Age to age, until so high, it shall touch the starry sky,
And all folk beneath the sun shall be sheltered, everyone.
That is what it means to be
Of America, the free!"
"Thanks, dear Gran. My, it certainly feels good
To know I'm that,—American!"
And so, I knew Jim partly understood.

Published in The Brownies' Book, March 1920

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