Anthology of Black Mississippi Poets



Anthology of Black Mississippi Poets

This edition

"The Anthology of Black Mississippi Poets." Ed. Julius E. Thompson. Rochester, NY: Frederick Douglass Institute, U of Rochester, 1988. viii+145 pp.

Table of contents

● Julius E. Thompson / Introduction
● Minnie L. Smith / Papa
● Isaiah Madison / We Don's Miss Our Water
● Isaiah Madison / The Drought . . . and the Rain
● Aurelia Norris Young / Centennial Hymn
● Aurelia Norris Young / The Firefly
● John A. Ellis / Reality
● Barbara O. Townsend / "Pastel Children"
● Willie Cook / Night Smoke
● Willie Cook / The View of an Old Morning Sun
● Theodore Bozeman / Now Is The Past & Future For The Dancer
● Harrison Havard / It Happened Again
● Harrison Havard / We Are Grave Diggers
● Rhoyia Hope Crozier / How Long?
● Rhoyia Hope Crozier / Question
● Roland Havis / The Woman And Water, No Dream Awake
● Roland Havis / Backtrack To Border No, My Father
● Nayo (Barbara Watkins) / Do You Know Me?
● Nayo (Barbara Watkins) / Black Men Rising
● E. C. Foster / All-American Black Boys
● Aurolyn Jacobs / A Form of Protest
● Aurolyn Jacobs / I Want To Name My Children After Poems
● Melvin Turner, Jr. / Amerikkkan Pie: Babylonion Blueberry
● Melvin Turner, Jr. / City Scenes
● Thomas D. Pawley / Disco
● Thomas D. Pawley / War Symphony
● Jerry W. Ward, Jr. / Open
● Jerry W. Ward, Jr. / Langston / Blues Griot
● Jerry W. Ward, Jr. / Don't Be Fourteen (In Mississippi)
● Sterling D. Plumpp / Muddy Waters
● Sterling D. Plumpp / J's
● Sterling D. Plumpp / Worst Than The Blues My Daddy Had
● Sterling D. Plumpp / After Reading Detained
● Sinclair O. Lewis / Put Your Heart In My Care
● Deyonya Havis / Contemplation At Midnight
● Ahmos Zu-Bolton / Old Song / Ancient Song
● Ahmos Zu-Bolton / The Football Hero
● Ahmos Zu-Bolton / Struggle-Chant
● Benjamin J. Williams / The Odd Menagerie
● Benjamin J. Williams / The Golden Gulf Coast
● Benjamin J. Williams / A Honky Tonk Woman
● Benjamin J. Williams / A Child of the Quarters
● Benjamin J. Williams / Gri-Gris
● Julius E. Thompson / Home. Home. Home.
● Julius E. Thompson / He's My Son, But Help Him
● Julius E. Thompson / Sharing
● Julius E. Thompson / For The Dreamer
● Julius E. Thompson / Who Has Tears For A Black Poet
● Virgia Brocks-Shedds [sic, Brocks-Shedd] / Southern Roads/City Pavement
● L. C. Dorsey / Cold Steel
● L. C. Dorsey / On Reading A Poem
● Biographical Notes
● Author Index

About the anthology

● Includes 50 poems by 24 poets. (The preface refers to "23 poets included in the volume" [iv], but this presumably omits the editor who is also included in the anthology.)
● The poems are grouped together by author and the authors are arranged in a single sequence.
● Most of the items are published here for the first time, but nine poems were previously published in various journals or in a volume of poetry: Sterling D. Plumpp's "After Reading Detained" from "The Black Nation"; Jerry W. Ward's "Don't Be Fourteen (In Mississippi)" from "The Black Scholar"; his "Open" from "The Iowa Review"; his "Langston/Blues Griot" from "Steppingstones"; Virgia Brocks-Shedd's "Southern Road/City Pavement" from the "Jackson Advocate"; Thomas D. Pawley's "Disco" and "War Symphony" from "Phylon"; and Ahmos Zu-Bolton's "Struggle-Chant" and "Old Song/Ancient Song" from "A Niggered Amen" (Solo Press, 1975) (iii).
● Includes an extensive introduction by the editor as well as a map of Mississippi and biographical notes on the poets included in the anthology and an author index.
● The anthology was published in 1988, but Thompson was clearly at work on it for an extended period: one of the references in the notes to the introduction is to Margaret Walker Alexander's biography of Richard Wright, referred to as "The Daemonic Genius of Richard Wright," which is listed as "forthcoming, Fall, 1985" (33n.16). [The book was published as "Richard Wright, Daemonic Genius: A Portrait of the Man, A Critical Look at His Work" (1988).]

Anthology editor(s)' discourse

● The anthology is dedicated to Margaret Walker Alexander and to Richard Wright (viii).
● The editor notes that he offers an extensive introduction "because nothing else has appeared in the literature as a guide to the historical role and contribution of black Mississippi poets" (iv). What follows below are notes summarizing the substantive literary historical discussion Thompson provides in his introduction.
● The introduction examines "the role and accomplishment of Black poets in Mississippi, from the late nineteenth century to the present," "the historical vision, direction and meaning of [their] works," "in an effort to relate these themes to the contemporary poets who follow in the anthology" (1).
● During the era of Reconstruction, the Black majority in Mississippi (before the Great Migration) engaged in "the task of defining and securing Black freedom in the state": central to this were the contributions of "Mississippi's largely self-educated [Black] writers, workers, ministers, teachers and businessmen," especially through the Black press: "Between 1867 and 1899, over fifty Black newspapers were published in Mississippi" (2)--but "no copy is known to have survived" of these newspapers (30n.2). "Since many of the Black journals in Mississippi during this period were church-related, religious themes [no doubt] played an important part in the materials which were published. This trend would remain an important element in twentieth century Black Mississippi poetry" (2).
● A period of intensified repression set in from 1890 and was exacerbated by the economic hardships of the Great Depression: the Black press in the state grew from 1870 to 1920, but then "sharply declined" after World War I and through the years of the Great Migration (3). There were 87 Black newspapers in 1900-1920; 18 papers in 1921-1940; and only 11 papers in 1941-1953 (30n.4). "The Black press of Mississippi survived the Great Depression, however, during the 1940's there were only four major Black papers in the state"--the "Jackson Advocate," the "Mississippi Enterprise" (Jackson), the "Southern Advocate" (Mound Bayou), and the "Delta Leader" (Greenville) (35n.19). Nonetheless, "[t]hese papers continued to serve as organs for the expression of Black writers. For example, during 1942, the 'Jackson Advocate' ran the entire book of 'Native Son,' by Richard Wright, in ten excerpts, in the paper" (35n.19).
● The leading northern Black newspapers--such as the "Chicago Defender," the "Pittsburgh Courier," and the "Afro-American" (from Baltimore/Washington, DC)--still made their way into the state and the influence of the "New Negro" movement and of the Garvey Movement were felt in Mississippi in the 1920s and 1930s (3-4).
● The development of the "Delta blues" from the 1920s had a tremendous impact on Black creativity in the state (4).
● An important role was also played by Black fraternal organizations and especially by Black women's organizations, "especially under the umbrella of the Mississippi branch of the National Council of Negro Women" (4).
● "As in the nineteenth century, many of the early Black poets in Mississippi who wrote between 1900-1949 are lost to us. Few Black newspapers and other journals from this period have survived" (5).
● Early twentieth-century Black Mississippi writers of poetry include: Samuel A. Beadle (b. 1859) (5); Charles P. Jones (who, like Beadle, is included in the biographical compendium "Multum In Parvo" [1912]) (5-6); Effle T. Battle (6); Eudora V. Marshall Savage (6); George E. Lee (6).
● In the 1930s, there were Jonathan Henderson Brooks (1904-1945) (6)--whose poems appeared in several anthologies of Black poetry: "Caroling Dusk," ed. Cullen (1927), "The Negro Caravan," ed. Brown, Davis, and Lee (1941), "The Poetry of the Negro," ed. Bontemps and Hughes (1949; 2nd ed. 1970), "American Negro Poetry," ed. Bontemps (1963) (32n.12); as well as Thomas D. Pawley (b. 1917) (7); and Richard Wright (7).
● During the 1940s, a number of writers with Mississippi connections were included in anthologies of Black poetry, such as "Golden Slippers," ed. Bontemps (1941), "Ebony Rhythms," ed. Murphy (1948), and "The Poetry of the Negro, 1746-1949," ed. Hughes and Bontemps (1949) (9, 34n.17): these authors included Anslem Joseph Finch (1902-1969); Annie Elizabeth Butler; Isabella Maria Brown (b. 1917); Mary Wilkerson Cleaves; Amos J. Griffin; Ruth Roseman Dease; Alice Brown Smith; Joseph Clifton Brown (b. 1908); Richard V. Durham (b. 1917) (8); and M. Carl Holman (b. 1919) (9).
● The most noted Mississippi poet of this period, however, was Margaret Walker Alexander: "'For My People,' her most famous poem, ranks among the best poems written by a Black writer since 1900. Its power and its vision have seldom been matched by other poets" (9).
● But throughout the previous decades, many writers left Mississippi, among the hundreds of thousands of Blacks who migrated north from the state: these included Richard Wright, Richard V. Durham, Joseph Clifton Brown, William Attaway, Carl Holman, George E. Lee, and Thomas D. Pawley (11).
● The 1950s "was an extreme time for many Blacks in Mississippi" under segregation and among the worst living conditions in the country (10-11). "The Age of Lynching continued for Blacks in Mississippi during the 1950's. The cases of Willie Magee (1950), Emmet Till (1955), the Rev. George Lee (1955), Lamar Smith (1957), Clyde Kennard (1957), and Mark Charles Parker (1959), all served as reminders to people of the times of just how hard the future struggles for freedom, justice and equality would be, in Mississippi and the United States" (35n.20).
● One bright spot, on the literary front, was the gathering of Black writers that Margaret Walker Alexander organized "during the week of October 19-25, 1952, for a literary festival in honor of the 75th anniversary of the founding of Jackson State. The list of names was an impressive one, and included Owen Dodson, Arna Bontemps, Gwendolyn Brooks, Sterling Brown, J. Saunders Redding, Melvin Tolson, Robert Hayden, Era Bell Thompson, and a local talent, Ruth Dease" (11).
● "The Age of Segregation in the area of education in Mississippi, for all practical purposes, really only ended during the early 1970's. Thus, [up through the 1950s and 1960s,] most of the Blacks who attended college in Mississippi, did so at a Black school in the state, or at another Black college in a near-by state" (13). The student papers at these institutions were one place where Black students (and, often, faculty and staff) could find an outlet: e.g., "The Alcorn Herald" (Alcorn State University), "The Blue and White Flash" (Jackson State University), the student paper at Mississippi Valley State University, "The Sentinel" (Rust College), and "The Tougaloo News" (Tougaloo College) (13).
● Another venue was the "Mississippi Educational Journal," the organ of the Association of Black teachers of Mississippi (13). The organization was established in Jackson in 1927 and its journal "served as a major outlet for poetry written by Black teachers in Mississippi" (37n.25)--including Ruth Roseman Dease (b. 1912) (13).
● "The 1950's were [a] depressing time for Black poets in Mississippi. Many had departed the state for more promising opportunities elsewhere; those that remained, mainly Margaret Walker Alexander and Ruth Roseman Dease had to connect themselves to Black colleges in order to survive. They also had to overcome the isolation of being in Mississippi. It was a time of silence" (14).
● The intensifying consciousness and civil rights struggles of the 1960s brought with it "a rising tide of Black creativity," fed by "a large group of young Black civil rights workers, mostly associated with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), who came to the state in the early 1960's to aid the Movement there. Many of these young people were also poets. This list included: Doris A. Derby, John O'Neal (1940- ), Tom Dent, and Alice Walker (1944- )" (14-15). They were joined by Nayo (Barbara Watkins) (1940- ), who arrived in 1969 and became "a strong poetic voice from the Black Arts South Movement" (15). Margaret Walker Alexander's work of the 1960s was, in the opinion of Arthur P. Davis in 1974, "the best poetical comment to come from the civil rights movement" (quoted 15).
● "Other black poets who lived and worked in Mississippi during the 1960's were: the young poets Willie Cook (1929- ) at Alcorn State University, later at Jackson State, and Charles Rowell at Tougaloo College; Aurelia N. Young (1915- ) at Jackson State University; Isabella M. Brown (1917- ), at Natchez; and Dilla Irwin (1910- ), at Vicksburg, and editor of a local Black newspaper in that city, the 'Citizen's Appeal,' during 1964-67" (16).
● A number of Black writers of the 1960s were born in Mississippi, though they left the state: these included (in addition to other ex-Mississippi figures noted above such as Richard Wright and Carl Holman) John A. Williams (b. 1925) (13), Etheridge Knight (b. 1933), Lerone Bennett (b. 1928), Sterling Plumpp (b. 1940), Al Young (b. 1939), E. H. Jones and Clarence Franklin (both included in the "Black Fire" anthology), Angela Jackson (b. 1951), Loyle Hariston, and Beulah Richardson (16-17).
● Audre Lorde served as poet-in-residence at Tougaloo College in summer 1968 (17).
● Despite the "conservative reaction" or "counter revolution by the old guard to impede, or undo as much of the positive work of the 1960's as possible" that occurred in the 1970s, "the promising growth and development of the Black Arts Movement in Mississippi, especially among the poets, would continue during the 1970's" (18).
● "Seventy-five to a hundred Black poets connected with Mississippi, [sic] wrote and published poetry during the 1970's" (18-19). This includes ex-Mississippi writers like Marion A. Nicholes and Ahmos Zu-Bolton (19), as well as the women in the Black Women's Art Collective in Jackson (18) and other "new local Mississippi poets" in Jackson, such as Jerry W. Ward, Virgia Brocks-Shedd, Nayo (Barbara Watkins), Julius E. Thompson, L. C. Dorsey, Jonetta Turner, Burns Machobane, and, toward the end of the 1970s, such poets as E. Yvonne Foreman, Charles Tisdale, Sinclair O. Lewis, and Doris E. Saunders (19-20).
● "Jackson, Mississippi, with two of the major Black colleges in Mississippi, Jackson State University and Tougaloo College, was the state scene of much of the poetry activity among Black students" (20), with the literary magazines "New Visions" at Jackson State and "Pound" at Tougaloo College (21).
● A whole slate of volumes of poetry by individual Black Mississippi authors appeared in the 1970s (21); the US bicentennial in 1976 encouraged reflection on the progress achieved by and the continuing hardships faced by Black Americans (22); and the formation in 1979-80 of the Mississippi Cultural Arts Coalition, a "state-wide organization, created to promote the interests of Black culture in Mississippi," aided the new flourishing of Black poetry in Mississippi in the 1970s (22).
● "While the number of new Black poets in Mississippi has increased during the early 1980's, their publication outlets, nationally and locally have suffered a decline. This has encouraged the growth of more Black writers' workshops and cultural organizations in Mississippi, with the development of their own literary organs, or small publishing companies to publish the work of the members of each organization" (23).
● The economic recession of the 1970s and the disinvestment from public institutions in the 1980s have had a calamitous impact on Black culture in Mississippi: in particular, the future of Black colleges, public and private, in Mississippi and elsewhere, now appears imperiled: "The question is a significant one for Black culture, because the Black college has always served as a major training ground for Black writers. Can White institutions serve this function?" (24).
● "Many of the significant Black poets, who lived and worked in Mississippi for the period 1960-1979, had by the early 1980's departed the state for a variety of reasons. Some left the state to continue their education; others for economic considerations; . . . and still others to escape, what some consider to be the special burdens of living in Mississippi itself: an open/closed society; a sense of isolationism and the small town atmosphere of most Mississippi cities; and the continuing impact of the state's violent racial history of segregation and racism. Among the poets and writers who have departed Mississippi are the following figures: Alice Walker, Doris Derby, Charlie Cobb, Charles Rowell, John O'Neal, Anne Moody, Burns Machobane, Jonetta Turner, and Julius E. Thompson" (24-25)--joining other Black writers long in exile from Mississippi ("Etheridge Knight, Lerone Bennett, Jr., Sterling Plumpp, M. Carl Holman, Angela Jackson, and others") (25).
● The year 1980 also marked "the retirement of Margaret Walker Alexander from Jackson State University, after thirty-years of service to that institution" (25).
● Despite all this, there are some "fifty new voices of the 1980's" in Black poetry in Mississippi, including Deborah LeSure, Theodore Bozeman, and Aurolyn Jacobs (25).
● Despite the inhospitality of Mississippi for Black poetry, Black poets have made that hard soil yield fruit: "as this study reveals, many Black poets have continued to work in Mississippi, and to promote the study and interpretation of the Black experience in that state. An impressive list of such writers includes: Margaret Walker, Jerry W. Ward, Benjamin John Williams, Barbara Watkins, Virginia [sic, Virgia] Brocks-Shedd, Worth Long, Aurolyn Jacobs, L. C. Dorsey, Theodore Bozeman, and Ruth Roseman Dease" (28).

Commentary on anthology

● There is a copy of a 1-page announcement of the publication of this volume, in the James Howard Meredith Collection, MUM00293, (Papers 1988: Box 68). University of Mississippi Libraries. Web.

See also

● The introduction to the anthology is reprinted as: Julius E. Thompson, "The Black Poet in Mississippi, 1900-1980." "Africana Studies: A Disciplinary Quest for Both Theory and Method." Ed. James L. Conyers, Jr. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1997. 208-28.
● The introduction is also reprinted as: Julius E. Thompson. "The Black Poet in Mississippi, 1900-1980." "Black Life in Mississippi: Essays on Political, Social and Cultural Studies in a Deep South State." Lanham, MD: UP of America, 2001. 91-120.

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