Conflict for Civil Rights: August 23, 1881

Conflict for Civil Rights
Christian Recorder: August 23, 1881

THE CONFLICT FOR CIVIL RIGHTS

A Poem

Being an effort on the part of the author to give a running sketch of the principal incidents connected with the mighty struggles which terminated in recognizing the equality of all men before the law.

The Conflict for Civil Rights is a poem which I composed at Savannah, Georgia, in the year 1874, when that question was agitating the entire country, and public sentiment upon the same was so intense, pro and con, there may be some expressions which will not be relished by every class of readers. Such readers I trust will be more lenient when I inform them that I wrote under the pressure of the excitement of the times, and was naturally inspired by the heated circumstances.

I have been urged to publish it for years, but knowing that it was necessarily defective, for the reason that I am not a poet, I hesitate to face the criticism the defects might evoke. But as I soon shall depart to the chambers of the dead, and will not long remain to brook the dissecting knife of the critic, I yield to the desire of others, and send it forth in the hope that some line in it may transmit a valuable thought to some struggling soul in want of an idea. Should it only serve to prompt some young lady or gentlemen to produce a decent poem on the same subject I will be amply remunerated; for this feeble effort scarcely touches the grandeur of the theme.


I

A Golden House on golden columns raised,
In redly tinted skies bespangled blazed;
With opening doors diffused a gladsome light,
And glorious gleams refreshed the Freedman’s sight.
This was the Almighty’s work; no fictitious sky,
That held this burnished Temple flaming high
Like precious jewels in their glittering ray
On beauty’s bosom dazzling in the day;
Outvieing e’en the great Ephesian dome,
In lofty rearing the emancipated home,
“To wake the soul and living fire impart,
To raise the mind and mend the heart,
To make our people in conscious virtue bold”
Remember well the past, and know what they behold.
This is my aim to move by Heaven above,
The Freedman’s pride, the Freedman’s love.
Some angel guide me now while I write,
That which an angel only can indite;
Of liberty’s celestial fire, sinking ne’er in vain,
“Truth crushed to earth shall rise again;”
For phoenix-like, she mounts on wings of flame,
And soars and shines another yet, the same.
When the swelling tide had sunk the Freedman down,
When Heaven was darkened by a dreadful frown,
When thunderbolts had pierced with fearful flare,
When earth’s foundations trembled everywhere
When we were wont, to whom the boon was given.
E’en we the free who in prayer had striven,
To quail before the cruel, sanguinary strife;
Then lo! There flashed into a rosy life,
An arch celestial o’er the storm-strewn skies,
Traced there in love before our shrinking eves.
Should not this wipe away all tears,
And banish all our doubts as well as fears?
“O,ne’er did mariner long lost at sea,
With no benignant star to point his course,
Hail with more rapture the first gleam of land,
Then I from War’s seamed visage and wild glance,
Turn to the blue eyes of maternal Peace.”
So sang our own New England muse,
In strains so sweet they did diffuse,
The spirit of our newborn life;
Newborn amid the carnage and the strife.
Our paths were rough and all unknown,
The rising mists had strangely strown,
And wound about our darksome way,
Their hideous wreaths of clammy spray,
But oh, the blessed truth; our toils were passed,
The gathered clouds dissolved; behold at last
The zephyrs whisper and the pale stars shine,
With home lights streaming through the vine.
Before the gentle breeze, the silver lilies bend,
Faint with sweet odors the night winds ascend,
Heavy with fragrance, with the honeydews wet,
From beds of violets and mignonette.
At home, in rest, in soft, mellifluous notes,
On the still air, the plaintive melody floats.
A sweet voice rises through the starlight dim,
The song we love, the Freedman’s Evening Hymn,
For by the rustic cottage, e’en at the cottage door,
We’ll listen to the story, till we hear it o’er and o’er.
And thus the tale, the maiden did recite,
Unceasingly of freedom, from morn till the dead of night.
“We all believed that God did know,
About the freedom that we longed for so;
I knew he’d find some way to show
Which path to triumph we should go.
We were living in our cabin, down by a little rill;
With our father and our mother,
Our sister and our brother,
And anxious for each other,
In that cabin by the rill.
But mark the dreadful time, our family came to know;
While we our tasks were plying,
Our mother she was sighting
And the news along was flying,
From the valleys down below.
We heard the tramp of men marching to and fro;
And the ringing of the bells,
With the whistling of the shell,
And the deafening shrieks and yells,
Were the sounds of coming woe.
Down went our cabin now, like chaff before the wind,
And my father and my mother,
With my sister and my brother,
In the smoke, they all did smother,
As I was left behind.
Ah! How I cried for mercy, as I was struggling there;
Their cruelty unrelenting,
And no hand then preventing,
While I was sore lamenting,
My anger and despair.
Then the soldiers of the Union rushed quickly in to save,
And amid the dreadful clashing,
With the rushing and the dashing,
In the fire’s fitful flashing
I was rescued by the brave.
They bore me o’er the river, across to freedom shore
My senses they were reeling,
Yet the truth it was revealing,
Unto my wounded feeling;
That I was a slave no more.

II

This is an oft tale, such as thousands tell,
of the war’s most painful story, in which so many fell.
But these are notes that ne’er will dull with rust,
The sweetest chords are often clogged with dust.
We pipe and pipe again the self-same strains,
While sounds of desolation come in sad refrains.
On through the world, we go, with listening ears,
Each longing for the music, which he never hears;
Each sighing for a word of tender praise,
A word of love to cheer our busy days;
Thus on we tread and thus each one his fate fulfills,
Waiting for heavenly music, from the heavenly hills.
But is the Summer o’er—the Summer gone?
And have our hopes become forlorn?
All the long bright days have they fled?
Leaving no crown for Liberty’s head?
The sky is covered with a smoky veil,
The winds of Autumn begin to wail.
Nil Desperandrum;--never despair nor faint;
But the treasure up the wisdom of the poet saint.
There’s life in our life, a secret spring,
Wide from our action and a separate thing.
Man mixes with his kind;--but who shall tell
His thought that saddens or his hopes that swell?
Know thou, that all mankind are children all;
Of one Almighty parent whom they call
By divers names; -----whose essence varies not;
Nor is his care confined to any spot.
Though scattered far and wide by evil fate,
The common heritors of one estate,
We should with one united effort strive
In the same household all once more to hive.
Our faith in him, ‘tis ours to evince thus,
And love our brethren as he loved us.
Thus loving God the Father for Christ’s sake,
Unto our hearts as equal brethren take,
His erring children, men of every land,
All joined in one fraternal band.
Now the country groans and travaileth in pain;
Was the War not ended and reconstruction vain?
But then our God will hear the Freedman’s groan,
Of man and all Creation thou art the Lord alone.
The same great constellations in the sky,
The stellar wonders of that wondrous frame,
God’s great original truths proclaim.
Year succeeds year in one unceasing round;
Summer and winter and each season’s found
Following each other from day to day¸
But the struggle comes and strides apace,
The strife’s renewed against the Freedman’s race.
There’s a deep portentous murmuring, ‘tis among the free,
Like the roar of mighty waters o’er the troubled earth,
‘Tis the voice of the Freedmen in their agonizing cry,
They’re striking for their rights, for to conquer or to die.
Hark! ‘tis like an earthquake! And pallid now with fear,
Onward charge the ranks of the sable musketeer.
Onward they come and each footprint impressed,
On the grass of the plain, or he masquerader’s breast,
Is a drain for the lifeblood of the Freedman or his foe;
On! On! To the breach!---what the care we more to know?
Who falls in this last struggle, for every man that fights,
A fallen martyr to those civil rights,--- his name,
Will be graven ‘mong the highest on the temple of fame.
“Ask not the Freedman how he feels,
Left in that dreadful hour alone;
Perchance his courage stoops and reels,
Perchance a courage not his own
Braces his mind to desperate tone.”
Such were the shouts from Trenton’s reddened field
The White men’s leagues cry, ---Black men, will ye yield?
As down to the valley the rattling platoon
Went plunging and prancing.---But soon
Sound the groans of the dying men’s breath;
They grappled the foe, with the grapple of death.
‘Tis true they were vanquished, they bent to the hail;
But still shall the boast of the Southerner fail.
How dare they to crush the brave sons of the free?
Lo!---they’re coming again!­—Now brothers, we
Can see their lines gleaming like rebel array,
The Klans and the Leaguers all eager for prey.
Yes!---now from Coushatta sways the sulfurous cloud;
Sweeps o’er the land with the gloom of the shroud.
The Freedman is dying ‘mid carnage and gore
God of our fathers!---hast thou gave us o’er
In this bloody embrace, to these tigers a prey?
Let vengeance be thine!---thou wilt repay.
Away with the thought!---for this is no dream;
The war against civil rights!---that is their theme.
But soon will they cringe, as we know full well
The crisis has come and the tolling bells tell
We will not yield, not in fear of the grave,
The rights that belong to the free and the brave.

III

Heaven decrees no more than what is just,
In that, it has decreed its love for us.
Our trials and our sufferings were ne’er decreed amiss
They seal the bond of years, long years of waking bliss.
Oh cast thine eyes of mercy on the misery of the land;
Destroying angel, ---hold! enough! Stay thy smiting hand!
Grant the supplications, Lord, like grateful incense, borne,
Towards thy seat of Mercy, from all our hearts forlorn.
Father! thy sacred word revives our hopes anew;
For steadfast faith and trust doth confirm it true.
“Be not dismay’d if evil sometimes seem
To overcome the good;---God will redeem
The right at last. His justice never fails.
To make an even balance in his scales.”
Emancipation’s temple, on golden pillars, cast,
Memorial of God’s goodness in the past,
Memorial of our champion and chief friend,
And far as our great brotherhood shall extend
Remembrance of his great love is given,
Eternally by fame, by every breath from Heaven.
Upon that temple’s dome is Sumner’s name enshrined,
On every Freedman’s heart, on the tablet of his mind.
“The sweet remembrance of the just
Shall flourish when he sleeps in dust.”
Yes!---Sumner’s gone!---he’s veiled from mortal sight,
He ne’er was wrong whose life was in the right.
In truth, he was a man! ---a legacy he leaves to all,
Oh, say!---on whom shall Sumner’s mantle fall?
Serene, he lifts to heaven those closing eyes,
Then for the Freedman trembling, wept, “Farewell!”
For Freedom shrieked!---Great Sumner’s knell!
“Oh ever hallowed be his verdant grave!
There let the laurel spread the cypress wave
Thou sweetest fragrance, and thy earliest bloom;
There let the tears of heaven descend in balm!
There let the poet consecrate his palm!
Let honor ever bless the holy ground,
And shades of sainted heroes watch around.”
Fear not; for time unfolds an era new and bright
The day already brightens with a calm and joyous light.
Hear the voice of the people uniting in one cry,
And the shouts of the Freedman ringing out on high.
Freedom! Freedom! They’re struggling for their rights,
The people are in tears from the saddening sights;
Without their rights, their freedom’s but a name,
Naught but pariahs, branded with ill fame.
With tardy steps Celestial Justice comes;---but sure,
Unerring is her bolt; there’s none that can endure
Where it falls, there will the ruin be.
The guilty shrink, but no cunning ne’er shall free
Them from eternal pain. The ascending glory of a happier day.
Bends despotism down and drags it to decay.
Oh! Had a seraph from some distant sphere,
Some few years since have made a sojourn here,
He would have seen prescription in our southern lands,
And thronging slaves in droves and bands;
Human chattels! To be bartered and be sold,
God’s image in exchange for filthy lucre;---gold!
Or sold on auction blocks with the crowded marts,
Piercing groans, streaming eyes, and rended, broken hearts.
Augmented by a conscious fact; his unrequited toil.
As for the drivers cracking last his blood bedewed the soil.
He would have seen the region bowing beneath its crimes,
And back to heaven flown. But now upon these times
The seraph might exclaim, “Oh! What a change is this!
Methinks, I see a semblance here, of e’en supernal bliss
The vassals of the land from galling chains released;
And all the groans, the cries, and misery have ceased.
The earth is now resounding with their jocund glee
In strains of sweetest melody, the music of the free.
I see them marching on with bold, aspiring tread
In strides of civil progress. There is no fear or dread;
But all secure, they lift their banners and declare
Their rapturous joy. Let them now the way prepare
For equality and honor, for the boon of human rights,
For each and every privilege, and for those heavenly lights
To lead them in the way of truth.” He would say no more.
But should he come today, in sorrowing plight he’d soar;
And as Moses dashed the tables down upon Mt. Sinai’s brow
When he beheld the Hebrew race and saw them how
They worshipped the molten calf, their hands alone had cast.
So might the seraph, with a pealing trumpet blast
Proclaim!---“There is none whatever of inferior birth
That breathes or creeps upon this dust of earth,

IV

No wretched creature of no wretched kind
Than man more weak, calamitous and blind.
There’s revolution here!---there’s a funeral pall!
There’s a gloom o’ershadowing Freedom’s hall!
Marks on the floor!---Life drops split!
A conflict rages!---There’s war to the hilt!
O blind security! He in whose dread hand,
The lightning vibrate, will not withstand
This trampling on his people. All, all their rights
Must be to them extended; ---or he will not fail
With fearful oracles to make paler
Their white oppressors.”---With such words of love
He’d speed on his mission to the realms above.
With proud exultant voice, by no means premature,
We next unfold the scroll and behold the embrasure
Of the coming time.---We see the black man higher still,
With manly stride and gallant tread he climbs the hill
Of fame---He writes his name on honor’s roll,
And dignifies his skin,---He stamps his deeds from pole
To pole upon liberty’s smitten rock.---His praises are sung
As he saves his sire’s honor from defamation’s tongue.
With scholastic polish in the ages future blaze,
He’ll pour entrancing eloquence in the world’s astonished gaze.
His flattened nose, his thickened lips, and even his kinky hair
Beneath a rude exterior, be admired everywhere.
While undeniable traits of his moral worth and truth
And an intellect none shall question, will forsooth
Shoot forth with grander evidence yet. The burnt cork face
With wild gesticulation and most risible grimace,
Under the wisdom of the day, will be banished from the stage.
And stand the Prima facie proof, the justice of the age.
Black sons of freedom!—these halcyon days will soon have sway;
The beacon lights on the golden shore, the meridian sun of day
Will shed their splendors.---The chrysalis emancipates and frees
The butterfly---He will spread his wings upon the breeze,
And drinking nectar from the sweetest flowers,
Give God the praise for his unfolded powers.
His deeds shall be the subject of historian’s praise
For him, the electric spark shall flash from shore to shore’
And breathe his massive thoughts as they never breathed before
The sunlit and star paved sky;---the green-clad earth
Shall his Alma Mater be, ---The ripping river with bubbling mirth,
And the limpid springs by gentle zephyrs driven;
The babbling brooklets, roses bloom, and oaks by thunder-riven,
Winter’s frost, the glittering ice, and hoary moss-bound rocks,
Each shall his inspiration be. His knowledge then unlocks
Deep mysteries profound and teaches him to honor and adore
That great Eternal One, whose glory is forever more.
When they behold the zenith of the black man’s fame
To think they are the offsprings of the sires who did deny
To these same men their common civil rights.---They will decry
The truth, and swear their fathers anti-righters never were;
Repel the crushing charge;---the odium not incur.
Let every son and daughter of our chosen race,
Now raise their paeans high.---May redeeming grace
In sweetest accents swell; the welkin tuneful ring;
And all with one accord in thrilling concert sing;
“Bright is the beautiful land of our birth.
The home of the homeless all over the earth;
Oh!---let us ever with the fondest devotion,
The freedom our fathers bequeathed us watch o’er;
‘Till the Angel shall stand on the earth and the ocean.
And shout ‘mid earth’s ruins that Time is no more.”