For Martin Luther King Day, it is apt to pay tribute to Margaret Walker(1915-1998), African-American poet. I first read her powerful poem, For My People, when I was an undergraduate. The poem first appeared in Poetry Magazine in 1937, and became her signature piece, the poem by which she was known. In 1968 she founded the Institute for the Study of History, Life, and Culture of Black People (now the Margaret Walker Alexander National Research Center). The Margaret Walker Personal Papers Digital Archives includes scanned images of her journals, with her own handwriting. Here are the last two stanzas of For My People:
For my people standing staring trying to fashion a better way,
trying to fashion a world that will hold all the people,
all the faces, all the adams and eves and their countless
Let a new earth rise. Let another world be born. Let a
bloody peace be written in the sky. Let a second
generation full of courage issue forth; let a people
loving freedom come to growth. Let a beauty full of
healing and a strength of final clenching be the pulsing
in our spirits and our blood. Let the martial songs be
written, let the dirges disappear. Let a race of men now
rise and take control.
The full poem and an audio clip are available at the Internet Poetry Archive. Below is a video of Leah Ward Sears, Supreme Court Justice of Georgia, reading For My People, as part of the Favorite Poem Project.
More Margaret Walker Photos at my Pinterest Margarets Board.