Black history poetry
Editor’s Note: February is Black History Month. Here are some poems from military spouse Latorial Faison. Read more about Latorial in a spotlight section below her poems.
What is Black History?
It is the dirt road our forefathers trod,
Memories of their lives branded in our hearts.
It is a word, a place, a state of mind.
Black history is a peek into our ancestors’ time.
It is a piece of fabric our grandmothers wore,
An old rope that our grandfathers lived to deplore.
It is a slave ship and middle passage over seas.
Black history is cotton fields and tobacco leaves.
It is a plantation overseer and back door crumbs,
Weeping and wailing, a beating of drums.
It is a troubling truth, an unapologetic past.
Black history is an entire race struggling to last.
It is a Mississippi burning in a Tennessee town,
An evil that lingers to bring Black people down.
It is a book or movie of strength, courage, and will.
Black history is the fate of young Emmett Till.
It is little Ruby Bridges, the exquisite Ruby Dee,
Carter G. Woodson, and Coretta Scott King.
A Mahalia Jackson song, a Michael Jackson routine,
Black history is the phrase “Let freedom ring!”
It is Cheney University, the Tuskegee Airmen,
The N. A. A. C. P., the Black Holocaust Museum.
It is a navy master diver named Carl Brashear.
Black history is our legacy of triumph without fear.
It is General Colin Powell, a Vaudeville drama,
Zora Neale Hurston, and President Barack Obama.
It is every single experience of our history.
Black history is the story of you and me.
The Sounds of Blackness
In my heart there lies no defeat
But in my bosom a triumphant and rhythmic beat
And while my spirit dances with gladness
I am quick to recall the sounds of blackness.
I hear the moaning and the wailing
Of native Africans held captive on ships sailing
As though it were my youth of yesterday
Whispering truths to ears in dark dismay.
The long, persistent motherland call
Of anxious hope and justice for all
As though it beckoned from higher heights
I hear the songs of steal away nights.
That disdainful whip, the startling crack
The sound of fifty lashes to my brother man’s back
We listened to hate’s hypocrisy, it’s rhetoric on religion
And prayed for deliverance complete with wisdom.
I hear Harriet’s footsteps and her hushing sacred sounds
As she walked without fear in search of freedom’s grounds
To lead as many captives safely to northern light
Her savvy spirit vowed to never give up the fight.
The sighs of relief at a kingdom finally come
Freedom at last for us, the worst of sins to some
But to the surprise and shock of a divided nation
Came the lyrics of a long overdue slave Emancipation.
The endless cheering must have been loud
While those who stood free made their ancestors proud
And the old African’s dream really did come true
In a nation where his people were brought to be subdued.
Dr. King shouted “Free at last, free at last . . . “
And his dream of a promised land did come to pass
The sit-ins, the marches and the demand for equal rights
Were necessary for those freed in
darkness and deprived of light.
So, in my daily living, I do not dare ignore the sounds
But am honored that my ancestors were
strong and freedom bound
When fellowmen can’t remember the truth about this sadness
Pause to share with them one of the many sounds of Blackness
Brave and strong
Civil war veterans
Black men in uniform
Helped win the West
Fought many fights
With courage and finesse
They built forts
They protected land
Were in demand
They served with pride
In the wild west
Many of them died
Kansas and Texas too
Just a few states
Buffalo Soldiers rode through
Much of what we see
In America today
Began with Buffalo soldiers
Leading the way
Way back in history
They fought to survive
And died to be free
Spotlight on Latorial Faison
Latorial Faison is an African-American poet and author who has been published in RiverSedge, Southern Women’s Review, ChickenBones, Red River Review, Underwired Magazine, and elsewhere. Faison is the recipient of the Department of the Army’s Commander’s Award for Public Service as a result of her dedication and volunteerism to the 502nd Personnel Services Battalion of the 4th Infantry Division during its first deployment to war in Iraq.
Q: Why do you write?
A: I have always loved to write, but most importantly, I love to inspire, to encourage, to uplift others with words. I love to teach, to reveal, to open minds to profound and provocative thoughts that trigger inspiration. I have always been a good girl, but I have also always been a person you can count on to speak out and to speak up for those who have been denied, deprived, or underprivileged. Writing ... well, it is who I am. I have so much inside of me, so many testimonies, so many experiences ... my entire life is a testament of hope. Sometimes people just need to know that someone else has beat the same odds that they face, and if I can share what I’ve been through, what I’ve overcome, I believe that it will encourage people, show people that they can too.
Q: What do you hope people get from your poetry?
A: As to the message that I have on race relations, my message is that we still have a lot of work to do as African-Americans. We still have much work to do around race relations as a nation. …
I write to educate and inspire young people at the same time. For example, in my last three books, which focus on celebrating Black history, I have penned various poems for young readers in which I highlight and detail the lives of great achievers like Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Phyllis Wheatley, Dr. Charles Drew, Rosa Parks, Dr. King, Benjamin Banneker, Ruby Bridges, etc. The education system in America does not always focus on this history, so my goal has been to go into schools and teach kids with poetry, to enlighten them with rhyme, and teach them about the importance of African-Americans in American history.
What I do, as a writer and an educator, is never about me. I have always been an innate inspirer. Though I’m known for issuing tough love, I love nevertheless. Life is hard. It’s not getting any easier, and I want to wake people up, to shake them up. There are too many adults walking around with the mentalities of children.
Q: What are today’s most pressing issues?
A: I am a person of faith. Thus, I hope, but I am also a realist. I believe that somewhere along the line, in our plight toward freedom in America, we have lost our way. The world is a place of differences, and we’ve not yet, even today, learned to deal with, respect, and honor the differences of others. We have tried, and we have failed in many ways. We tend to only do well with countries that are like us. There’s an underlying theme there, the basis of American history. We have always been afraid of differences in America. Differences stand out. Differences have been ostracized, maligned, and ignored, and debased in America. I fear that we have lost our way, and a major part of life in America is driven by the power of the dollar; this is sad. ... Today we debate marriage and gun control, when injustice and poverty have always been issues, since the establishment of the nation. We are too quick to solve new problems without having solved old ones in this country and in our world.