"Posterity will owe everlasting thanks to John Brown for lifting up once more to the gaze of a nation grown fat and flabby on the garbage of lust and oppression, a true standard of heroic philanthropy, and each coming generation will pay its installment of the debt. . . . John Brown saw slavery through no mist or cloud, but in a light of infinite brightness, which left no one of its ten thousand horrors concealed." Frederick Douglass

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Thursday, April 07, 2011

"Chanted by Dusky Millions": A Poem by Georgia Douglas Johnson (1922)
Georgia Douglas Johnson
(c. 1877-1966)
Schomburg Center image

To John Brown

We lift a song to you across the day
Which bears through travailing the seed you spread
In terror's morning, flung with fingers red
In blood of tyrants, who debarred the way
To Freedom's dawning. Hearken to the lay
Chanted by dusky millions, soft and mellow-keyed,
In minor measure, Martyr of the Freed,
A song of memory across the day.
Truth cannot perish through the earth erase
The royal signals, leaving not a trace,
And time stil burgeoneth the fertile seed,
Though he is crucified who wrought the deed:
O Alleghanies, fold him to your breast
Until the judgment! Sentinel his rest!

Georgia Douglas Johnson was a notable figure of the Harlem Renaissance.  Her birth date is uncertain, some sources placing it at around 1877 and others at 1880.  This poem appeared in her book, Bronze (1922, p. 89), which includes a preface by Brown biographer, W. E. B. DuBois (and a poem in his honor too).  Johnson's "John Brown" was also featured the same year in The Crisis (August 1922).  My transcript is from Benjamin Quarles, Blacks on John Brown (1972), reprinted by DaCapo Press with Allies For Freedom (1974) in one volume (2001).  

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