Wednesday 27 May 2015

Civil Rights Poetry

From slavery to Black Power, poets have been moved to write about civil rights.

1.  To Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe (1854), was written in reaction to the anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom's Cabin, a novel loosely based on the slave life of Josiah Hensen

2.  The Hunters of Men (1835), written by John Greenleaf Whittier, brings to the forefront the hunting of escaped slaves, complete with hounds and whips (

3.  I Have Seen Black Hands (1934), written by Richard Wright, who was denied a library card as a child because he was black (

4.  Let America be America Again (1936), written by Langston Hughes, talks about all skin colours (

5.  A Seat on the Bus for Rosa, by Luke Easter, focusses on seamstress Rosa Parks who, in 1954, refused to give up her seat on an Alabama bus to a white person, prompting the famous bus boycott (

6.  Ode to Emmett Till (2013) was written in honour of the black boy who was lynched for supposedly "whistling" at a white girl in 1955 (

Emmett Till.jpg

7.  The Little Girl from Little Rock (2004), by Joan Dresner Bernstein, features the black girl who along with nine other helped integrate Little Rock High in 1957 (


8.  Mississippi Burning Poem, written by blogger Leah (2011), talks about the four civil rights activists who were murdered in Mississippi in 1964 (

9.  Here is my civil rights poem, Justice for Johnnie Mae (2008), written in honour of the mother of ten, Johnnie Mae Chappell, who was gunned down on her way home from work in Florida in 1964.

In the ditch at the end of the day
A black lady looked for her wallet.
Inside was all of her weekly pay,
This mother of ten named Johnnie Mae.

As a loud shot rang out, she was hit.
An ambulance marked "colored" was hailed.
Her husband held her hand for a bit,
Yet despite his pleas, her heart soon quit.

At the church, as her small children wailed
Murdered Johnnie Mae was laid to rest.
But five months went by with no one jailed
In old Jacksonville, justice had failed.

"Four white men killed her" detectives say.
But the sheriff freed them anyway.
Ten grown children continue to pray
All seeking justice for Johnnie Mae.

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