As we watch the fireworks this and every Fourth of July, we must remember to keep the voices of Indigenous and Black ancestors just as bright.
The following is a collection of poems that gesture towards a future that honors the voices of Indigenous and Black ancestors, and what they fought for, without erasing them.
Hughes’s poem “I, too” although written in 1925, challenges the ongoing racism that many experience to this day in America. He calls for equality for every American and exposes the hypocrisy of the unfulfilled promise of independence.
by Langston Hughes
I, too, sing America.
I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—
I, too, am America.
Published at the height of the Civil Rights Movement, Brooks represents a rebellious and defiant group. Rebellion, however, is sometimes necessary for fighting for change. And change can come from anyone if we only have the courage to rebel against oppression and prejudice.
We real cool
by Gwendolyn Brooks
The Pool Players.
Seven at the Golden Shovel.
We real cool. We
Left school. We
Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We
Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We
Jazz June. We
In her poem Joy Harjo connects humanity and nature, highlighting that unity is possible in this world. Her cries represent the beauty of a world where we live in equality and harmony.
by Joy Harjo
Ah, ah cries the crow arching toward the heavy sky over the marina.
Lands on the crown of the palm tree.
Ah, ah slaps the urgent cove of ocean swimming through the slips.
We carry canoes to the edge of the salt.
Ah, ah groans the crew with the weight, the winds cutting skin.
We claim our seats. Pelicans perch in the draft for fish.
Ah, ah beats our lungs and we are racing into the waves.
Though there are worlds below us and above us, we are straight ahead.
Ah, ah tattoos the engines of your plane against the sky—away from these waters.
Each paddle stroke follows the curve from reach to loss.
Ah, ah calls the sun from a fishing boat with a pale, yellow sail. We fly by
on our return, over the net of eternity thrown out for stars.
Ah, ah scrapes the hull of my soul. Ah, ah.
Allen speaks of a world “where pain is the prime number” but there’s hope for a world where we can all dance together, in a world where oppression and inequality don’t exist. Where we can all know the true meaning of freedom and independence.
by Paula Gunn Allen
Itś hard to enter
Circling clockwise and counter
clockwise moving no
regard for time, metrics
irrelevant to this dance
where pain is the prime number
and soft stepping feet
praise water from the skies.
I have seen the face of triumph
the winding line stare down all moves
to desecration: guts not cut from arms,
fingers joined to minds,
together Sky and Water
one dancing one
circle of a thousand turning lines
beyond the march of gears-
out of time, out of
More about our Black/African American poets
Langston Hughes: https://poets.org/poet/langston-hughes
Gwendolyn Brooks: https://poets.org/poet/gwendolyn-brooks
More about our Native American/ Indigenous poets
Joy Harjo: https://www.joyharjo.com/
Paula Gunn Allen: https://poets.org/poet/paula-gunn-allen
"I, Too" The Collected Works of Langston Hughes.
"We Real Cool" Selected Poems by Gwendolyn Brooks.
"Ah, Ah" How We Became Human: New and Selected Poems:1975-2001 by Joy Harjo.
"Hoop Dance" The Sacred Hoop: Recovering the Feminine in American Indian Traditions by Paula Gunn Allen