"I will not allow one prejudiced person or one million or one hundred million to blight my life. I will not let prejudice or any of its attendant humiliations and injustices bear me down to spiritual defeat. My inner life is mine, and I shall defend and maintain its integrity against all the powers of hell."
--James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938)
Today, this Sunday, the daddy feels he needs a spark, some inspiration. He's feeling a poem from James Weldon Johnson. Author, politician, diplomat, critic, journalist, poet, anthologist, educator, lawyer, songwriter, civil rights activists, Johnson was multi-talented in life and art. He wrote "Lift Every Voice and Sing, " considered the black national anthem. He was one of the first African-American professors at New York University. And he was a professor of literature at Fisk University.
The daddy appreciates Johnson's talents but thinks of him as a poet. Of his poetry, many know of his work "The Creation," a sermon in verse taken from "God's Trombone," a book of black sermons. The daddy likes the last two verses at the end, where he writes:
"Up from the bed of the river
God scooped the clay;
And by the bank of the river
He kneeled him down;
And there the great God Almighty
Who lit the sun and fixed it in the sky,
Who flung the stars to the most far corner of the night,
Who rounded the earth in the middle of his hand;
This Great God,
Like a mammy bending over her baby,
Kneeled down in the dust
Toiling over a lump of clay
Till he shaped it in his own image;
Then into it he blew the breath of life,
And man became a living soul.
But the daddy's favorite is the poem where he marvels at the ability of slaves to compose such bittersweet spirituals and gospel songs in a minor key, where he extols their ability to create in both, in content and tone, music that reaches deep down into the recesses of the soul. In "O Black and Unknown Bards," taken from "The Book of American Negro Poetry, a book he edited, Johnson writes:
O BLACK AND UNKNOWN BARDS
- BLACK and unknown bards of long ago,
How came your lips to touch the sacred fire?
How, in your darkness, did you come to know
The power and beauty of the minstrel's lyre?
Who first from midst his bonds lifted his eyes?
Who first from out the still watch, lone and long,
Feeling the ancient faith of prophets rise
Within his dark-kept soul, burst into song?
- Heart of what slave poured out such melody
As "Steal away to Jesus"? On its strains
His spirit must have nightly floated free,
Though still about his hands he felt his chains.
Who heard great "Jordan roll"? Whose starward eye
Saw chariot "swing low"? And who was he
That breathed that comforting, melodic sigh,
"Nobody knows de trouble I see"?
- What merely living clod, what captive thing,
Could up toward God through all its darkness grope,
And find within its deadened heart to sing
These songs of sorrow, love and faith, and hope?
How did it catch that subtle undertone,
That note in music heard not with the ears?
How sound the elusive reed so seldom blown,
Which stirs the soul or melts the heart to tears.
- Not that great German master in his dream
Of harmonies that thundered amongst the stars
At the creation, ever heard a theme
Nobler than "Go down, Moses." Mark its bars
How like a mighty trumpet-call they stir
The blood. Such are the notes that men have sung
Going to valorous deeds; such tones there were
That helped make history when Time was young.
- There is a wide, wide wonder in it all,
That from degraded rest and servile toil
The fiery spirit of the seer should call
These simple children of the sun and soil.
O black slave singers, gone, forgot, unfamed,
You -- you alone, of all the long, long line
Of those who've sung untaught, unknown, unnamed,
Have stretched out upward, seeking the divine.
- You sang not deeds of heroes or of kings;
No chant of bloody war, no exulting pean
Of arms-won triumphs; but your humble strings
You touched in chord with music empyrean.
You sting far better than you knew; the songs
That for your listeners' hungry hearts sufficed
Still live, -- but more than this to you belongs:
You sang a race from wood and stone to Christ.
Primary Writings of James Weldon Johnson:1. The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man, 1912.
2. (Translator) Fernando Periquet, Goyescas; or, The Rival Lovers (opera libretto), 1915.
Fifty Years and Other Poems , 1917
3. (Editor) The Book of American Negro Poetry , 1922
4. (Editor) The Book of American Negro Spirituals , 1925
5. (Editor) The Second Book of Negro Spirituals , 1926
6. God's Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse (poetry), 1927
7. Black Manhattan (nonfiction) 1930
8. Along This Way: The Autobiography of James Weldon Johnson, 1933
9. Contributed articles and poems to the Chicago Defender, Times-Union, New York Age, New York Times, Pittsburgh Courier, Savannah Tribune, The Century, The Crisis, The Nation, The Independent, Harper's, The Bookman, Forum, and Scholastic.