Happy Juneteenth

England

Juneteenth is a holiday that originated in Galveston Texas, two years after emancipation.  It marks the day in 1865 when Union General Gordon Granger read a proclamation that informed the slaves in Texas that they were free.  It is known variously as Freedom day, Liberation day and Jubilee day.

A song closely associated with this day is “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”, a negro song thought to have been used by slaves as a code to navigate the underground railroad.  It  has been adopted by English Rugby as an anthem for their team.  It began life when Chris Oti, the first English black player for 80 years, scored a hat-trick of tries against Ireland in 1988.  The RFU is actively working to replace it with a less racially charged anthem.

Here is a poem to America that serves as the polar opposite to the Donald Trump “Make America Great Again” slogan.  It is a perfect Juneteenth poem.  Someone should print LABAA hats.

 

Let America Be America Again: Langston Hughes

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home—
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”

The free?

Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
And all the songs we’ve sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay—
Except the dream that’s almost dead today.

O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,
America!

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!

Courage to face despair.

argoo

Tim Severin’s reconstruction of The Odyssey Ship

Jessie Redmon Fauset was born this day, April 27th in 1882 and was one of the contributing poets to the Harlem Renaissance.   More importantly her work portrayed images of African-Americans as working professionals, challenging embedded racial stereotypes.  As literary editor of the NAACP magazine “The Crisis” she promoted the work of writers including Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen and Claude McKay.

She taught a generation of African-Americans to honestly represent their racial qualities and to celebrate them; to be black, and be proud.  She challenged the inbuilt racism of African-Americans themselves where lighter toned people looked down upon the darker and few drops of mongrel white blood were valued over pure black ichor.

She tried but was arguably less successful at teaching women to represent their gender qualities and to celebrate them.  She is now recognised for her work as a feminist and her promotion of feminist writers.

The poem below derives from Homers Odyssey and the tale of the Lotus Eaters.  But it appears Fauset has taken her cue from Alfred Lord Tennyson who wrote of Ulysses as opposed to Odysseus and used the ‘Lotos’ spelling in his poem “The Lotos-Eaters”.

Let us swear an oath, and keep it with an equal mind,
in the hollow Lotos-land to live and lie reclined
on the hills like Gods together, careless of mankind.

 

‘Courage!’ He Said; by Jessie Redmon Fauset

ULYSSES, debarking in the Lotos Land,
struck the one note that the hapless Ithacans
travel-sick, mazed, bemused, could understand,
and understanding, follow.

‘Courage,’ he said, ‘remember, is not Hope!’
He left the worn, safe ship, spume-stained and hollow.
‘To be courageous is to face despair.’
And through the groves and ‘thwart the ambient air
resounded reedy echoes:
‘Face despair!’
But this they understood.
And plunging on prepared for best, and most prepared
for worst, found only in their stride
a deep umbrageous wood,
and grassy plains where they disported; eased
and bathed lame’ feet within a purling stream
and murmured: ‘Here, Odysseus, would we fain abide!’
But neither the stream’s sweet ease
nor the shade of the vast beech-trees,
nor the blessed sense
of the sweet, sweet soil
beneath feet salt-cracked and worn
brought to them even then,
(still fainting and frayed and forlorn),
such complete recompense
as the knowledge that once again
facing the new and untried,
they had kept the courage of men!

Happy Birthday Lucille Clifton

Amazons of Dahomey

Warrior Women of Dahomey

A raunchy poet, someone who revels in the human body, celebrates it, owns it.  Also a celebrated champion of African American Heritage.  She was brought to public note by none other than Langston Hughes when he published her in his anthology “The Poetry of the Negro” in 1967.

She traced her roots to Benin and the celebrated Kingdom of Dahomey, home of the fierce Warrior Amazons, not of legend but of recorded history.  They formed the King’s bodyguard and female regiments made up one third of all the armed forces in the Kingdom.  The last of the Dahomey Amazons died in 1979, aged over 100, and claimed she fought the French, which would have been in 1892-1894.

No surprise, with roots like these, that Lucille Clifton could spin a man like a top with her big hips.

 

Homage to my Hips; by Lucille Clifton

these hips are big hips.
they need space to
move around in.
they don’t fit into little
petty places. these hips
are free hips.
they don’t like to be held back.
these hips have never been enslaved,
they go where they want to go
they do what they want to do.
these hips are mighty hips.
these hips are magic hips.
i have known them
to put a spell on a man and
spin him like a top

3 Birthdays

2Women

I give you three great birthdays today.  Firstly the painting by Paul Gaugin, born this day in 1848, of two women from his residency in Tahiti.  This is followed by two women, both African American poets.

Gwendolyn Brooks was the first African American to win a pultizer prize for her collection “Annie Allen” published in 1950.

Nikki Giovanni is a winner of the Langston Hughes medal, was a political activist in the late 1960’s and the 1970’s and is now a professor in Virginia tech.

Happy Birthday all three.

 

We real cool; by Gwendolyn Brooks (B. 1917)
 
The Pool Players.
Seven at the Golden Shovel.

We real cool. We
Left school. We

Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We

Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We
Die soon.

 

 

I wrote a good omelet; by Nikki Giovanni (B. 1943)

I wrote a good omelet…and ate
a hot poem… after loving you
Buttoned my car…and drove my
coat home…in the rain…
after loving you
I goed on red…and stopped on
green…floating somewhere in between…
being here and being there…
after loving you
I rolled my bed…turned down
my hair…slightly
confused but…I don’t care…
Laid out my teeth…and gargled my
gown…then I stood
…and laid me down…
To sleep…
after loving you

All that Jazz

Great_Day_in_Harlem

The photo above, entitled “A great day in Harlem” was taken in New York in 1958 on August 12th.

In the photo are captured 57 of the greatest Jazz musicians of all time.  There are also some local kids sitting on the pavement beside Count Basie.

It is a unique record of a moment in time at the height of the Jazz era.  My parents time.  My fathers day, when he worked by day and ran his own dance band by night, leading from the Piano.  Back in the days before electronic music, amplification or DJ’s when every wedding or party needed to hire a band of real musicians.

I grew up to the sound of a Jazz piano and to this day the music stirs my soul and engages my youthful emotions, taking me back to a memory of my father.

If you think you recognize the photo you may have seen it in the Movie “The Terminal”.  Tom Hanks plays the part of Victor Navorski who comes to New York to complete his fathers task to collect the autograph of every Jazz musician in the photo.  The final autograph he needs is Saxophone player Benny Golson.

Benny Golson and Sonny Rollins are the only two musicians in the photo still alive today.

The Weary Blues; by Langston Hughes

Droning a drowsy syncopated tune,
Rocking back and forth to a mellow croon,
I heard a Negro play.
Down on Lenox Avenue the other night
By the pale dull pallor of an old gas light
He did a lazy sway . . .
He did a lazy sway . . .
To the tune o’ those Weary Blues.
With his ebony hands on each ivory key
He made that poor piano moan with melody.
O Blues!
Swaying to and fro on his rickety stool
He played that sad raggy tune like a musical fool.
Sweet Blues!
Coming from a black man’s soul.
O Blues!
In a deep song voice with a melancholy tone
I heard that Negro sing, that old piano moan—
“Ain’t got nobody in all this world,
Ain’t got nobody but ma self.
I’s gwine to quit ma frownin’
And put ma troubles on the shelf.”

Thump, thump, thump, went his foot on the floor.
He played a few chords then he sang some more—
“I got the Weary Blues
And I can’t be satisfied.
Got the Weary Blues
And can’t be satisfied—
I ain’t happy no mo’
And I wish that I had died.”
And far into the night he crooned that tune.
The stars went out and so did the moon.
The singer stopped playing and went to bed
While the Weary Blues echoed through his head.
He slept like a rock or a man that’s dead.