Black Poets Whose Writings Are Still Relevant in 2016

By Kaylah Morgan

Since its conception, poetry has been a medium for one to express his or her deepest thoughts and concerns. Like many, Black Americans have used poetry to speak about their concerns and the injustices that they face in this country. The first slaves came to the New World in the early 17th century. About 400 years later, Black Americans are still fighting for equality and justice. For this reason, these three Black American poets’ words are still very much relevant in 2016.

1. Langston Hughes

hughes

Langston Hughes was born in 1902 in Missouri. He spent a majority of his youth in Cleveland, Ohio, and grew to love and write poetry. Hughes graduated from high school in 1920 and found his place in history in the infamous “Harlem Renaissance” era. He became known early on by his allegiance to Black culture. Before it was popular, Hughes used dialect and Black customs to portray Black American life and experiences.

I, too, sing America

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

Tomorrow,
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody’ll dare
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
Then.

Besides,
They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed–

I, too, am America.

2. June Jordan

june

In 1936, June Jordan was born to Jamaican immigrants in Harlem, New York. Her mother is sometimes described as passive and uninvolved in June’s life. Her father was passionate and often abusive; he raised June as a “son” and took control of her education and “training.”As a college student in the 1950s, Jordan became a writer and activist early on. She became an award-winning author for her essays and poetry about the oppression of Black people and also advocated for other oppressed groups. Her poem, A Poem About Police Violence, is eerily relevant in 2016.

Poem about Police Violence

Tell me something
what you think would happen if
everytime they kill a black boy
then we kill a cop
everytime they kill a black man
then we kill a cop

you think the accident rate would lower subsequently?
sometimes the feeling like amaze me baby
comes back to my mouth and I am quiet
like Olympian pools from the running
mountainous snows under the sun

sometimes thinking about the 12th House of the Cosmos
or the way your ear ensnares the tip
of my tongue or signs that I have never seen
like DANGER WOMEN WORKING

I lose consciousness of ugly bestial rapid
and repetitive affront as when they tell me
18 cops in order to subdue one man
18 strangled him to death in the ensuing scuffle
(don’t you idolize the diction of the powerful: subdue
and scuffle my oh my) and that the murder
that the killing of Arthur Miller on a Brooklyn
street was just a “justifiable accident” again
(Again)

People been having accidents all over the globe
so long like that I reckon that the only
suitable insurance is a gun
I’m saying war is not to understand or rerun
war is to be fought and won

sometimes the feeling like amaze me baby
blots it out/the bestial but
not too often tell me something
what you think would happen if
everytime they kill a black boy
then we kill a cop
everytime they kill a black man
then we kill a cop

you think the accident rate would lower subsequently

3. Maya Angelou

maya

On April 4, 1928, Maya Angelou was born. She and her brother were raised by their grandmother in Arkansas. After she was raped by her mother’s boyfriend when she was eight, her uncles beat the man to death. The young Maya Angelou felt responsible for the man’s murder and handled the trauma by going mute for about five years.

Angelou spent her teen years in California and studied drama and dance. She eventually traveled and began writing articles in local papers. Angelou had written poetry for quite some time, and after her autobiographical works became popular, so did her poetry. She became known for her inspirational poems for African Americans and young people. Her poem, Human Family, could easily be interpreted for the current crisis of refugees from Syria and all over the world.

Human Family

I note the obvious differences
in the human family.
Some of us are serious,
some thrive on comedy.
Some declare their lives are lived
as true profundity,
and others claim they really live
the real reality.

The variety of our skin tones
can confuse, bemuse, delight,
brown and pink and beige and purple,
tan and blue and white.

I’ve sailed upon the seven seas
and stopped in every land.
I’ve seen the wonders of the world,
not yet one common man.

I know ten thousand women
called Jane and Mary Jane,
but I’ve not seen any two
who really were the same.

Mirror twins are different
although their features jibe,
and lovers think quite different thoughts
while lying side by side.

We love and lose in China,
we weep on England’s moors,
and laugh and moan in Guinea,
and thrive on Spanish shores.

We seek success in Finland,
are born and die in Maine.
In minor ways we differ,
in major we’re the same.

I note the obvious differences
between each sort and type,
but we are more alike, my friends
than we are unalike.

We are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.

We are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.

Sources:

http://www.biography.com/people/langston-hughes-9346313#early-life
http://www.biography.com/people/june-jordan-9358043#background-and-education
http://www.notablebiographies.com/An-Ba/Angelou-Maya.html

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