Friday, March 10, 2006

Beaumont to Detroit: 1943

Here's a Langston Hughes poem from 1943. Beaumont, TX and Detroit, MI were two in a series of race riots that swept the nation from May 12 to August 29, 1943, at the height of U.S. involvement in WW II. It's a good example of Hughes's ability to write to immediate social and political events. Considered alongside the Pisan Cantos, or the poems from Trilogy, or Moore's "In Distrust of Merits," I think it also expands our idea of the range of poetic responses to WW II we've been looking at this term. What do you think?

Beaumont to Detroit: 1943

Looky here, America
What you done done--
Let things drift
Until the riots come.

Now your policemen
Let your mobs run free
I reckon you don't care
Nothing about me.

You tell me that hitler
Is a mighty bad man.
I guess he took lessons
from the ku klux klan.

You tell me mussolini's
Got an evil heart.
Well, it mus-a been in Beaumont
That he had his start--

Cause everything that hitler
And mussolini do,
Negroes get the same
Treatment from you.

You jim crowed me
Before hitler rose to power--
And you're STILL jim crowing me
Right now, this very hour.

Yet you say we're fighting
For democracy.
Then why don't democracy
Include me?

I ask you this question
Cause I want to know
How long I got to fight

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