Monday, February 08, 2016

***Poet’s Corner- Langston Hughes-Freedom’s Plow

***Poet’s Corner- Langston Hughes-Freedom’s Plow 


From The Pen Of Frank Jackman


February is Black History Month


Freedom’s Plow


When a man starts out with nothing,
When a man starts out with his hands
Empty, but clean,
When a man starts to build a world,
He starts first with himself
And the faith that is in his heart-
The strength there,
The will there to build.

First in the heart is the dream-
Then the mind starts seeking a way.
His eyes look out on the world,
On the great wooded world,
On the rich soil of the world,
On the rivers of the world.

The eyes see there materials for building,
See the difficulties, too, and the obstacles.
The mind seeks a way to overcome these obstacles.
The hand seeks tools to cut the wood,
To till the soil, and harness the power of the waters.
Then the hand seeks other hands to help,
A community of hands to help-
Thus the dream becomes not one man’s dream alone,
But a community dream.
Not my dream alone, but our dream.
Not my world alone,
But your world and my world,
Belonging to all the hands who build.

A long time ago, but not too long ago,
Ships came from across the sea
Bringing the Pilgrims and prayer-makers,
Adventurers and booty seekers,
Free men and indentured servants,
Slave men and slave masters, all new-
To a new world, America!

With billowing sails the galleons came
Bringing men and dreams, women and dreams.
In little bands together,
Heart reaching out to heart,
Hand reaching out to hand,
They began to build our land.
Some were free hands
Seeking a greater freedom,
Some were indentured hands
Hoping to find their freedom,
Some were slave hands
Guarding in their hearts the seed of freedom,
But the word was there always:

Down into the earth went the plow
In the free hands and the slave hands,
In indentured hands and adventurous hands,
Turning the rich soil went the plow in many hands
That planted and harvested the food that fed
And the cotton that clothed America.
Clang against the trees went the ax into many hands
That hewed and shaped the rooftops of America.
Splash into the rivers and the seas went the boat-hulls
That moved and transported America.
Crack went the whips that drove the horses
Across the plains of America.
Free hands and slave hands,
Indentured hands, adventurous hands,
White hands and black hands
Held the plow handles,
Ax handles, hammer handles,
Launched the boats and whipped the horses
That fed and housed and moved America.
Thus together through labor,
All these hands made America.

Labor! Out of labor came villages
And the towns that grew cities.
Labor! Out of labor came the rowboats
And the sailboats and the steamboats,
Came the wagons, and the coaches,
Covered wagons, stage coaches,
Out of labor came the factories,
Came the foundries, came the railroads.
Came the marts and markets, shops and stores,
Came the mighty products moulded, manufactured,
Sold in shops, piled in warehouses,
Shipped the wide world over:
Out of labor-white hands and black hands-
Came the dream, the strength, the will,
And the way to build America.
Now it is Me here, and You there.
Now it’s Manhattan, Chicago,
Seattle, New Orleans,
Boston and El Paso-
Now it’s the U.S.A.

A long time ago, but not too long ago, a man said:
His name was Jefferson. There were slaves then,
But in their hearts the slaves believed him, too,
And silently too for granted
That what he said was also meant for them.
It was a long time ago,
But not so long ago at that, Lincoln said:
There were slaves then, too,
But in their hearts the slaves knew
What he said must be meant for every human being-
Else it had no meaning for anyone.
Then a man said:
He was a colored man who had been a slave
But had run away to freedom.
And the slaves knew
What Frederick Douglass said was true.

With John Brown at Harper’s Ferry, Negroes died.
John Brown was hung.
Before the Civil War, days were dark,
And nobody knew for sure
When freedom would triumph
"Or if it would," thought some.
But others new it had to triumph.
In those dark days of slavery,
Guarding in their hearts the seed of freedom,
The slaves made up a song:
Keep Your Hand On The Plow! Hold On!
That song meant just what it said: Hold On!
Freedom will come!
Keep Your Hand On The Plow! Hold On!
Out of war it came, bloody and terrible!
But it came!
Some there were, as always,
Who doubted that the war would end right,
That the slaves would be free,
Or that the union would stand,
But now we know how it all came out.
Out of the darkest days for people and a nation,
We know now how it came out.
There was light when the battle clouds rolled away.
There was a great wooded land,
And men united as a nation.

America is a dream.
The poet says it was promises.
The people say it is promises-that will come true.
The people do not always say things out loud,
Nor write them down on paper.
The people often hold
Great thoughts in their deepest hearts
And sometimes only blunderingly express them,
Haltingly and stumblingly say them,
And faultily put them into practice.
The people do not always understand each other.
But there is, somewhere there,
Always the trying to understand,
And the trying to say,
"You are a man. Together we are building our land."

Land created in common,
Dream nourished in common,
Keep your hand on the plow! Hold on!
If the house is not yet finished,
Don’t be discouraged, builder!
If the fight is not yet won,
Don’t be weary, soldier!
The plan and the pattern is here,
Woven from the beginning
Into the warp and woof of America:
Who said those things? Americans!
Who owns those words? America!
Who is America? You, me!
We are America!
To the enemy who would conquer us from without,
We say, NO!
To the enemy who would divide
And conquer us from within,
We say, NO!
To all the enemies of these great words:
We say, NO!

A long time ago,
An enslaved people heading toward freedom
Made up a song:
Keep Your Hand On The Plow! Hold On!
The plow plowed a new furrow
Across the field of history.
Into that furrow the freedom seed was dropped.
From that seed a tree grew, is growing, will ever grow.
That tree is for everybody,
For all America, for all the world.
May its branches spread and shelter grow
Until all races and all peoples know its shade.

Langston Hughes


… he, call him Chester Moore, to give him a name, although in the end he was nameless, or maybe too many names to name and so stick with Chester, Chester of the thousand dreams, Chester of the ten generations in the Mississippi night, the, what did Nina Simone call it, call right and righteous, Mississippi goddam night, if that helps. Chester now several generations removed from Mister’s slavery, now a couple of generations removed from the plow, that damn sharecropper’s plow and forget all that talk about freedom’s plow, forget about “forty acres and a mule” plow, forget all that “talented tenth” talk about hands joined together, white, black, indentured, adventurous, pushing that plow, that plow that kept his daddy and his daddy before him still under Mister’s thumb and Mister’s strange book of etiquette, his Mister James Crow (or call it Miss Jane Crow for his womenfolk were as obsessed and thrilled as old Mister with the forms of the, ah, etiquette and the great black fear-the great miscegenation –damn race-mixing ).


Chester all citified now, all up from the Delta to Jackson, all book-learned, a little anyway in those damn segregated schools (except if you pushed his buttons he would admit that some schooling was better that the none Mister offered, offered after about grade six and so he was the first in his family to avoid the infamous X mark of illiteracy although he had heard of this strange group of brothers, mostly prison-etched brothers, who took back the X to x-out Mister’s slave name but he was proud to write his given name, write his righteous given name). A little more worldly, having been to nightclubs with electricity and jukeboxes not some old juke joint drinking Wet Willie’s home-made by lantern light, than daddy and granddaddy who never, ever left the Delta for one day, after having done his American, hah, duty to fight off old white bread Hitler in all the crevices of countrified Europe.

Chester a little less enamored of slave-owners Mister Thomas Jefferson (who rumor had it could not keep out of the slave quarters although that was an unverified rumor learned from Johnny Logan a fellow soldier who hailed from Alexandra in Virginia near the old plantations) and Mister George Washington (who at least did go to the cabins) than daddy or granddaddy (although still enthrall to Father Abraham, who had the guts to say no more to slavery even though he never had truck with black people, wanted them banished back to Africa from what he heard and heard not from Mister Carl Sandburg of Chi town whom wrote Massa Abe up either and that silky smooth mad monk John Brown who led an integrated band, including kin to a future poet, in some doomed old prophet Jehovah project over Harpers Ferry way) and ready, black hands and all, and only black hands if that is what it took to fire old Mister James Crow (or maybe ravage Miss Jane Crow, if that was what it took) to seize the moment (long before Bobby called his tune- seize the time) and to break out of that fetid Mississippi muck, that cold steel Alabama, and maybe shave that peach fuzz off old stinking gentile new south Georgia.

So Chester gathered Booker, all greasy hands and dank uniform, from the auto shop, gathered Uncle Bill, grizzled by too much processed beef, from the barbecue stand, gathered Edward, head and back bent from ancient seedings, from his hard-scrabble low-down no account dirt share-crop, gathered Robert, full of book knowledge on the sly, from his janitorial duties over at the court house , hell, even gathered Reverend Sims, fat with Miss this or Miss that’s home cooking, from his Lord’s Worship Baptist Church sanctuary from the world, gathered Miss Betsy, an old time love before she took up with Johnny Grey while he was overseas, from her Madame Walker beauty salon (a very strategic move as it turned out since Miss Betsy knew everybody, everybody that Chester needed to turn that silly freedom plow talk into kick ass freedom talk ), gathered Miss Millie from her maid duties at Mister John Connor’s house, and even gathered (although not without controversy, not by a long shot, mostly from Reverend Sims) Miss Emily Jones, habitué(see he learned something in Uncle Sam’s Army) of Jimmy Jack’s juke joint, hell, just call her a good time girl, okay. All others, reverends, bootleggers, juke joint owners, northern liberals, white and black, shoe-shine boys, newspaper shouters, streetwalkers (yes, those streetwalkers), bus-riders (front or back), walkers of indeterminate reason (along Highway 61 dusty roads ready to make an arrangement with the devil if need be), Johnny-come-lately boys (brave too, despite the late hour, brave after the first jail night, the first blooded street fight) , children, high school be-boppers, you name it fill in the rear, because daddy and granddaddy Mister Whitey’s judgment day is here, here and now.

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