Thursday, March 12, 2015

Abel Meeropol & Langston Hughes:Strange Dream

Lately in class, we have been reading/ analyzing Harlem Renaissance poetry (esp. Langston Hughes' "Harlem" and listening to protest music (esp. Marion Anderson's "My Country 'Tis of Thee" and Billie Holiday's "Strange Fruit" of the 1930's...this led to my strange dream of last night!

Langston Hughes

Abel Meeropol

In my dream (no kidding!), Abel Meeropol and Langston Hughes were sitting together at Cafe Society (a night club) in Greenwich Village and doing "freestyle poetry" together...I have put Hughes' verses in bold print:

What happens to a dream deferred?

Southern trees bear strange fruit, blood on the leaves and blood at the root.

Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?

Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze, strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

Or fester like a sore - and then run?

Pastoral scene of the gallant south, the bulging eyes and the twisted mouth.

Does it stink like rotten meat?

Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh, then the sudden smell of burning flesh.

Or crust and sugar over - like syrupy sweet?

Here is fruit for the crows to pluck, for the rain to gather, for the wind to suck.

Maybe it just sags like a heavy load.

For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop, here is a strange and bitter crop.

Or does it explode?

I woke up thinking...I wish Billie Holiday and Nina Simone would've been there to sing it as a duet!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Bloody Sunday:"WE"

Bloody Sunday-March 7, 1965

This past weekend marked the 50th anniversary/ commemoration of Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama.  President Barack Obama delivered a stirring keynote address in front of thousands at the base of the Edmund Pettus Bridge. His 40 minute speech was part history lesson, a reminder of our dark past, a thank you to the grassroots leaders who led the fight, and an encouragement that we still have much work to do.

Here is an excerpt of one of the most often quoted (by the media) sections of his speech:

"...Selma shows us that America is not the project of any one person. Because the single most powerful word in our democracy is the word “We.”  We The People....We Shall Overcome...Yes We Can. It is owned by no one. It belongs to everyone. Oh, what a glorious task we are given, to continually try to improve this great nation of ours."

I wonder if President Obama was also thinking of (or had he forgotten) April 9, 1939...when Marian Anderson began to sing "My Country, 'Tis of Thee" on the steps of The Lincoln Memorial. She had been invited to sing in Washington by Howard University because of her international fame, but was denied to sing at Constitution Hall because she was Black. The Lincoln Memorial (talk about a symbolic slap in the face to racist America) was selected because it was an outdoor national monument and therefore not segregated.

When she got to the third line of the song, she made a revolutionary and startling change to the lyrics...instead of "of thee I sing" she sang "to thee we sing."  Many years after the concert, she explained why:

 "We cannot live alone...And the thing that made the moment possible for you and for me, has been brought about by many people whom we will never know."

A poignant reminder that those who often affect the most change never end up in the history books...thank you to all of those on Bloody Sunday who we never knew!