Democracy will not come
Today, this year
Through compromise and fear.
I have as much right
As the other fellow has
On my two feet
And own the land.
I tire so of hearing people say,
Let things take their course .
Tomorrow is another day .
I do not need my freedom when I’m dead.
I cannot live on tomorrow’s bread.
Is a strong seed
In a great need.
I live here, too.
I want freedom
Just as you.*
Be patient, the enslaved were told, the legislature of the state is working toward abolition.
Be patient, the enslaved were told, moderate abolition needs time to persuade reasonable white men.
Be patient, the Union army is coming.
Be patient, slavery is over, but the white part of the nation is not ready to grant civil or property rights.
Be patient, jump some Jim Crow, eventually the laws will change.
The problem in our nation has never been a lack of patience, Christian charity, but too little burning zeal against injustice. We need more Frederick Douglass and his friend US Grant busting the Klan and less shilly-shally compromising. Moderation is a virtue, but there is no moderate amount of cowardice that is acceptable. “Compromise and fear” leave whole lives without freedom and freedom is God’s gift to every man. God gave every person, each one of us, freedom. Part of that freedom is the right to “own the land,” to get a just and lasting reward for work. Peace will only come when there is justice and this side of the Messianic Kingdom, justice will have to be won be fighting.
One can compromise on many areas, but never on essential human liberty. There is no acceptable moderate amount of race based slavery in a Christian land!
But wait! We might say: “We know this. Slavery is bad. Abolition was good. God forbid we support such a thing. Stop going on about the past.”
Recall that the last pensioner of the Civil War died last year. People my age went to segregated schools in Texas. My fifth grade teacher told a Black child in my class that if he was not good, she would have him bussed back to the City. To be a Christian is to think that an event two thousand years ago counts. This is so. To be a conservative is to know that history and ideas have consequence. Evil men like Woodrow Wilson embedded white supremacy into our institutions and popular culture intentionally. This is a fact, one that better Christians fought, but failed to stop.
So what should we do, if you are like I am? Stop. Listen to brothers and sisters who face the problems and have been told to “be patient.” (God help us.) Most of all, covenant to do something for anyone who says: “I want freedom, just as you.”
Langston Hughes is my favorite American poet . . . since fifth grade! (This was one of the few things to come from that no-good year.) He always is worth reading. He challenges me, often disagrees with me, but frequently illuminates me. Thank God for such a poet.