08 November 2008

The Negro Mother

I am the one who labored as a slave,
Beaten and mistreated for the work that I gave—
Children sold away from me, husband sold, too.
No safety, no love, no respect was I due.
Three hundred years in the deepest South:
But God put a song and a prayer in my mouth.
God put a dream like steel in my soul.
Now, through my children, I'm reaching the goal.
Now, through my children, young and free,
I realize the blessings denied to me.
I couldn't read then. I couldn't write.
I had nothing, back there in the night.
Sometimes, the valley was filled with tears,
But I kept trudging on through the lonely years.
Sometimes, the road was hot with sun,
But I had to keep on till my work was done:
I had to keep on! No stopping for me—
I was the seed of the coming Free.
I nourished the dream that nothing could smother
Deep in my breast—the Negro mother.
I had only hope then, but now through you,
Dark ones of today, my dreams must come true:
All you dark children in the world out there,
Remember my sweat, my pain, my despair.
Remember my years, heavy with sorrow—
And make of those years a torch for tomorrow.
Make of my past a road to the light
Out of the darkness, the ignorance, the night.
Lift high my banner out of the dust.
Stand like free men supporting my trust.
Believe in the right, let none push you back.
Remember the whip and the slaver's track.
Remember how the strong in struggle and strife
Still bar you the way, and deny you life—
But march ever forward, breaking down bars.
Look ever upward at the sun and the stars.
Oh, my dark children, may my dreams and my prayers
Impel you forever up the great stairs—
For I will be with you till no white brother
Dares keep down the children of the Negro mother.

by Langston Hughes

[Dedicated to Ralph Dumain: Thank you for being a great human being! Zee Harrison]


Bent Society said...

Wonderful poem.

The one thing that does concern me with this poem - out of a desire for a broader historical context - is that it does not cover the full ancient history of slavery..that provides context. While the Atlantic slave trade was a terrible and huge industrial crime against humanity, Black people should not just see themselves as victims of white "brothers" - Because in earlier times the ancient Romans had many African legions that enslaved white people (even a Black emperor!). And then there were the African Barbary pirates who kidnapped and dealt in white slaves from Europe for centuries.

Barbados and Virginia were populated entirely with indentured slaves from Scotland, Ireland and England (many perished) prior to the Indistrial revolution - when the need for labour in the UK led to the passing of laws to outlaw that slave trade.

Slavery is part of mans inhumanity to man and goes on today in Africa and even in the trafficking in ALL ethnic groups of women into the sex-industry in the USA and Europe.


The Fitness Diva said...

Beautiful, moving poem. I need to dust off some of those Langston Hughes tomes. Have not read him in a while.

Renée aka Mekhismom said...

I love this poem. Like FD you have reminded me to get out some Langston Hughes. My favorite? The best of simple. Love that book.

Zee Harrison said...

You raise some excellent points which we could both write about further on our respective blogs.
Slavery is a heinous crime which has been visited upon many civilisations throughout history - you are correct. Although, Langston Hughes wrote this in a particular time when the people around him, who looked like him were experiencing unspeakable brutality and discrimination. (Of course you know this.)
He was writing for those who felt they had no voice, whose opinions society deemed didn't matter.
I have a few issues with the poem in the sense that I feel appealing to any form of the supernatural is a complete waste of time, and religion, in my opinion, has contributed to the arrested development of major segments of the black communities. Yet Langston was writing for his time. I forgive him!

I am not someone who 'blames white people' for historical slavery just as I can't blame black people/white people or any other 'race' of people who are slave owners today. Blaming someone doesn't help - my focus is to understand why it happened, how do we stop it happening today and also in the future.
I enjoy your comments and am glad you like the poem.

Fitness Diva & Renee:
Thank you for your comments. I love Langston Hughes' simplicity. He rarely wastes words, in fact most of his poems are short and concise. More people should become aware of his poems. I will try and feature some more of his work in the future. Thanks again.


Soapsoane said...

What I think is wonderful about Langston Hughes' writing is that although it's beautiful in itself, its aesthetic, it's also a motif of the fight to continue in spite of broken promises, disappointment.

That's what makes great art and it can be anywhere!

It's a brilliant light on how creative and normal and ordinary people are in spite of a degrading process.

It compensates and rehumanises, feeds our need to conect, strive, focus and support others?

Zee Harrison said...


Thank you. You 'get it'.


Waterrose said...

A wonderful poem. I had a teacher in high school that used this poem as a teaching tool. We took each line and analyzed the meaning/s.

Ralph Dumain said...

Thanks for your kind words, and for calling attention to Langston Hughes. Let me add that references to religion in "The Negro Mother" reflect the viewpoint of an elderly slave woman,not of Hughes himself. Hughes got into quite a bit of trouble for his anti-religious poetry, mostly notably "Goodbye Christ. See my blog entries:


In other cases, I would react quite differently now to certain material than I did as a teenager. Another time I will tell my story about James Weldon Johnson's "The Creation".

Bent Society said...

and Soapsoane

I 100 per cent agree with you both. It is a wonderful poem.

I was compelled to write my poem in part because when Black people have talked with me about the terrible legacy of the Atlantic slave trade, they have shared with me, amongst so many complex feelings, knowledge and understandings about it the sense of physical shame: "How could we let them (white people) get away with doing that to us? How were they (white people) able to overpower us and keep US down?"

My point was to show that Black people had long before the terrible and industrial-scale Atlantic slave trade, and for centuries, successfully enslaved White people.

It’s not about tit-for-tat (of course) ...seeing the bigger picture empowers as well as it informs.


A Progressive Girl said...

Greetings Zee,

I almost picked that one for the Sunday Poetry Series last week...went with I too, Sing America instead. Glad to see you covered it here.

Congrats on the new blog!
I have seen it and it looks great.


Bent Society said...

Oops - sorry - typo in my comment aboive. I means "write my COMMENT" not "poem" - perhaps it's a freudian slip?

Bent Society said...

Zee. I had a go at the Barbary Pirates...some intresting figures:


Some tough questions...

Does this empower Black people in relation to some of the pain of the Atlantic slave trade do you think?


This Makes My Day said...

Amazing poem, thanks for posting this beautiful one.

Zaidat said...

AN oldie but goodie. I need to get my LH books out too!

Anonymous said...

This is not the full poem. Don't understand why it is cut off in mid??????