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Poem of the Week

I Was Born Black, I’m Gonna Die Black

i was born1

(Obscura, Vol. 4, pp. 26-9)

This Monday was Martin Luther King Jr. Day so in honor of Dr. King and the great leaders of the civil rights movement, the poem of the week is “I was Born Black, I’m Gonna Die Black” by Yvonne Coleman. It does a great job of guiding readers through the history of the African American struggles in this country. It starts with the narrator’s birth, and by parallel, the birth of a race in America. First, it cleverly discusses slavery without explicitly mentioning it. Instead, the destruction of families, the physical abuse, and the treatment of people like chattel are described in a simple yet powerful narration. The poem continues through cross burnings, lynching, the Tuskegee experiment, and segregation, signs that emancipation did not equate to freedom. Moments of strength arise under the guidance of Dr. King and Malcolm X. On the third page, there is a transition to more recent events. The cases of Bumpurs and Rodney are used as examples of the inequality and discrimination that persist. Despite the struggles, the mood of the poem is still hopeful. It ends on a note of positivity: with President Obama’s election. The last line, “AND I…AM still BLACK” evokes the strength of the African American race, which has survived through so much adversity already, and maintains faith that it will, as said by Dr. King, “Overcome!”

 

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