Black Poets James Monroe Whitfield

James Monroe Whitfield (1822-1871)

Whitfield was a barber by trade, a major propagandist
for black separatism and racial justice, and an
outstanding poet whose impassioned protest verse
masterfully combined bitter anger and artistry.

How Long?

How long, O gracious God! how long,
Shall power lord it over right?
The feeble, trampled by the strong,
Remain in slavery's gloomy night?
In every region of the earth,
Oppression rules with iron power;
And every man of sterling worth,
Whose souls disdains to cringe or cower
Beneath a haughty tyrant's nod,
And, supplicating, kiss the rod
That, wielded by oppression's might
Smiles to the earth his dearest right,-
The right to speak, and think, and feel,
And spread his uttered thoughts abroad,
To labor for the common weal,
Responsible to none but God,-
Is threatened with the dungeon's gloom,
The felon's cell, the traitor's doom,
And treacherous politicians league
With hireling priests, to crush and ban
All who expose their vile intrigue,
And vindicate the rights of man.
How long shall Afric' raise to thee
Her fettered hand, O Lord! in vain,
And plead in fearful agony
For vengeance for her children slain?
I see the Bambia's swelling flood,
And Niger's darkly rolling wave,
Bear on their bosoms stained with blood,
The bound and lacerated slave,
While numerous tribes spread near and far,
Fierce, devastating, barbarous war,
Earth's fairest scenes in ruin laid,
To furnish victims for that trade,
Which breeds on earth such deeds of shame,
As fiends might blush to hear or name.