by Fenton Johnson
He came when tyranny was ripe, a torch
That lit the darkened avenue of hope,
He came from cabin, ragged, poor, and starved,
And walked among the honoured of the earth.
His cry the cry of Moses to the King,
"Oh, let my people go, thou freeborn host,
For God hath heard their cry; they must be free."
He walked not shrouded, but with manhood stride,
The morning of a people long oppressed,
He stood within the palace of the King
And cried, "Give them their rights; they must be free.
These lowly folks, — my brothers, ay, thine, too
Let not a democratic people cringe
To selfish idols, childish prejudice
Let not the future ages note this land
That broke the chains Hanover's puppet forged
Enslaves and keeps enslaved a helpless race,
Whose hand has never struck the stars and stripes."
Ah! there was Phillips; there was Sumner, too,
With Lowell, Garrison, and Whittier,
And Brown, whose noble life Virginia took,
And Stowe, whose pen awoke the slumbering North;
But none of Afric line as bold as he,
As fiery and inveterate of speech,
As monumental of the intellect
A man of dusk may have, tho' born in chains —
A worthy peer for such a company.
When chaos ruled, and freedmen knew not where
The star of fortune would abide with them
This Douglas, dauntless as the wind of March,
As shepherd guides his sheep o'er stony crags
He guided long his race, all bruised and torn,
And faltering because the night was dark;
Until he heard the still small voice of Death
And drifted down the endless stream of Time.
O Douglas, thou hast left a heritage
To those whose brows are pierced by thorned crowns
And from thy couch in green Elysium
Where thou and Sumner and the laurelled Grant,
And Ingersoll and Lincoln watch the tide,
Thy voice comes down to us, thy bleeding sheep.
And these thy words, O Prophet of the Dusk!
"Go on, my Race, the sun will rise again,
The Night will fade as darkness ever fades.
No race can always bend beneath the yoke,
For 'tis a truth the wrath of those oppressed
Will break the reins, and drink of liberty.
Be valiant, true, and know not cowardice
And live so that both friend and foe may say,
"Oh they were great in adversity
But greater in the hour of jubilee!"
Thus speaks our Douglas from his grave, and we
Should heed his mighty voice, lest we should fail.
Last updated September 21, 2022