Chris Mahin writes: On Thoreau’s 200th Birthday: His Plea For Captain John Brown

On Thoreau’s 200th Birthday: His Plea For Captain John Brown

by Chris Mahin

July 12, 2017 marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of the writer Henry David Thoreau. Much of the commentary about this occasion has focused on Thoreau’s love of nature. This is understandable, given the current attacks on the environment.496e6f6286424697b36fa4e159c73599-640x433

But while “Walden” is justly celebrated, nothing Thoreau ever wrote did more good than the heartfelt essay he crafted on short notice to defend the opponents of slavery who attacked the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry in the autumn of 1859.

Just two weeks after John Brown and his compatriots staged their daring raid, Thoreau stood up in a church in Concord, Massachusetts to defend them. On Sunday evening, October 30, 1859, he read aloud his essay, “A Plea for Captain John Brown.”

Describing Brown’s character, Thoreau said:

John_Brown_portrait,_1859“He was like the best of those who stood at Concord Bridge once, on Lexington Common, and on Bunker Hill, only he was firmer and higher principled than any I have chanced to hear of as there. … They could bravely face their country’s foes, but he had the courage to face his country herself, when she was in the wrong. …

“No man in America has ever stood up so persistently and effectively for the dignity of human nature, knowing himself for a man, and the equal of any and all governments. In that sense he was the most American of us all.”

In the days and weeks after the Harpers Ferry raid, Americans were stunned. Many were willing to let Brown and his men hang. Thoreau’s early, brave stance helped pave the way for other Northern intellectuals to speak out in defense of Brown and his compatriots.

I have been to Walden Pond. I have been to the church in Concord where Thoreau uttered his plea.

Both are shrines.


  • Chris Mahin

For more information about the Harpers Ferry raid and Thoreau’s role afterward, see the article “Harpers Ferry: Courage and clarity changed history once – and will do it again” in Rally, Comrades!, Vol. 19, Number 5, September-October 2009.

To read the complete text of Thoreau’s “Prayer for Captain John Brown,” click this link.

A commemorative U.S. postage stamp in honor of Henry David Thoreau has just been issued, which you can read about here.


Nelson Peery: Why Is African American History The Heart of American History?

Portrait of David

Illustration from The Future Is Up To Us, Portrait of David, painting  by Diana Berek

This is the beginning of Black History Month, February 1, 2016, and I think it’s appropriate to quote from Nelson Peery’s The Future Is Up To Us:


To suggest such an analysis is bound to make the majority of eyebrows arch upward. African Americans have always been looked upon and treated as if they were at best on the periphery of our coun- try’s history. Their being marginalized in the social and economic sense reinforces this outlook. Nevertheless any serious inquiry into history will show that the control, manipulation and exploitation of the African American was at the heart of every major and most of the minor decisions of state prior to the Civil War, and a good many of them afterwards.

Let’s start at the beginning. For a number of ideological and political reasons, the American colonies resisted African slavery, pre- ferring to populate the New World with European indentured ser- vants. In the Caribbean, the plantation and slave system was being fine-tuned. There, unheard-of fortunes were accumulated on the basis of the most reckless expenditure of human life known to history. A goodly portion of the colonies’ economic intercourse was servicing the slave system of the Caribbean. The colonies were never discon- nected from African slavery. It was not some inopportune landing of a Spanish ship carrying twenty African captives that inaugurated

African slavery in the colonies. As the capitalist system evolved from the slave trade and the Caribbean plantations, capitalism became firmly planted in the colonies and slavery was its inevitable result. Every colony had slavery, and none of the colonies, north or south, could have accumulated and economically moved forward without the brutal working to death of the slave.

Rudimentary capitalist agriculture—that is agriculture for the market, rather than consumption—never reckoned with ecology or preservation of the land. This is especially true of cotton culture. The solution was the constant westward motion for virgin land. I often laugh at these falsifiers of history who wave the flag and talk about the westward move of liberty. In fact, it was the westward move of slavery. Two examples that come to mind are the removal of the five

“civilized” (i.e., slave-holding) Indian tribes from their native lands to the Oklahoma Territory. The “Trail of Tears” is an indelible moral condemnation of U.S. state policy for the expansion of slavery. The Indians suffered terribly on that journey. Can you imagine the con- dition of their African slaves?

The other instance was the annexation of Texas and later the war against Mexico and the ripping-off of half her national territory. There was no other reason for this expansionism but the promulga- tion of slavery. The westward march of liberty is a joke.

Most people understand that the Civil War was fought over the African Americans’ condition as slaves. Few realize that Wilson probably would not have been elected if Blacks were able to vote. Certainly, Roosevelt would not have won his third term without a solid African American vote. This goes for Truman and a number of presidents who changed the political direction of the country.

Take a look at the body of law developed around the control of labor. Every single one of these oppressive laws had their foun- dation in the control of the African American. If we go beyond the written law it is easily seen that the control of a disjointed working class was achieved through uniting the white worker and capitalist to exclude the African American.

In the realm of culture, if it weren’t for the African Americans we would still be dancing the minuet. At the heart of American cul- ture beats the culture of the African American people. They would not have created this culture if not for the isolation, brutality and segregation that lies at the heart of the African Americans as a people. Eleanor Roosevelt put it quite well when she said that apart from the culture of the Indian, the culture of the African American is the only American culture. Clearly everything else was an ethnic culture brought over from the old world. The other aspect is, it is becom- ing a world culture. Every time I’ve gone abroad, I’ve been shocked by the breadth of the assimilation of this culture into French, British, Egyptian—what have you—popular culture.

So when we say that the African Americans are at the heart of American history, we don’t mean to imply that they were in control of that history. The sad fact is that up until the integration period, con- trolling and manipulating the Black ten percent was the way to con- trol the white majority. This is the only way we can make sense of a history that gives the world the most exalted visions along with the most brutal and callous exploitation and destruction of human life.

Ode to a Spinal Cord: Poem for April 28, 2015

Ode To A Spinal Cord

Lew Rosenbaum

Behold the circuit running in a conduit,PT May 2015 Freddie Grey

Careful, braided, intertwined

Sets of neurons, leading from the

Stem of the brain

Sheathed in a cover, a skin

Called a nurturing mother,

Enveloped in bone casing,

Bones that articulate, where they meet,

So that they bend

And offer crevices through which

Nerves, creeping, encircling ivy tendrils, emerge

At different levels

Signals fly along the pathways

To muscles of the rib cage,

To augment breathing;

To femoral muscles to

Initiate a kick;

To the biceps

So the arm reaches down

To allow the hands,

To message the fingers

To cradle a sleeping baby.

Death to the Nazi class

Who severed Freddie Grey’s

Spinal cord.

Time to Go Beyond Petitioning Pharaoh

[My good friend and comrade, Adam Gottlieb, asked me to be part of a unique celebration at the end of Passover this year. He called it, in a scriptural reference, “Love the Stranger.” The celebration, on April 13, 2015, was an artistic performance that reflected on slavery and its modern consequences, and he asked me to reflect on capitalism and slavery. I began by asking people to help me sing the lyrics of “Let My People Go,” a song that I identify with the rich bass voice of Paul Robeson. This was more or less what I said.]

When Israel was in Egypt’s land: Let my people go,
Oppress’d so hard they could not stand, Let my People go.
Go down, Moses,
Way down in Egypt’s land,
Tell old Pharaoh,
Let my people go.

In 1861, three slaves escaped from a work detail building defense batteries for the confederate army, and presented themselves at Fort Monroe in Virginia. When Confederate Major John Cary demanded their return, General Ben Butler refused, on the basis that since Virginia, after secession, was now a foreign territory, the Fugitive Slave Law no longer applied. The U.S. Secretary of the Navy, in September of 1861, referred to the slaves as “persons of color, commonly known as contrabands,” and directed that they be paid for their work for the Navy; three weeks later the Army followed suit. In August of 1861, the U.S. government passed the confiscation act, which forbade returning all contraband, including slaves, to the Confederacy. The numbers of escaped slaves increased as this policy became known, and the earliest recorded use of the song was as a rallying cry among the contrabands somewhere before July 1862. It appears to have been sung by Virginia slaves as early as 1853.
I want to take you back to a period a couple of thousand years before 1853, though, to the area from what became fort Monroe to the area that became St. Louis and Chicago and ask you to consider what that area looked like, what was the dominant form

The wall around the Great Circle at Newark, Ohio, was built by digging a trench on both sides of the wall and massing the dirt thus excavated.

The wall around the Great Circle at Newark, Ohio, was built by digging a trench on both sides of the wall and massing the dirt thus excavated.

of getting your means of survival? What were means of production and survival in those days? I want to challenge you to think of a time before private property, when for the most part people lived in small groups, relied little on cultivation, and “owned” everything in common. When survival was at the mercy of the seasons and nature, where cooperation was essential for survival, where in good years/seasons the means of survival was abundant, where in times of scarcity, survival hung on a slender thread. This is the vast majority of human “prehistory,” in the sense that we have no written records of this, what we commonly call history.
Fast forward to about 500 in what we call the “Common Era.” The largest group of people living together in North America (that we know about) lived in Southern Illinois, in a center we call Cahokia; about 20,000 to 30,000 people we think lived there. And in another 1,000 years, by the time the first European settlers came along the Mississippi in that area, no people lived there. What happened to them? There is no evidence of plague or disease wiping them out. There is no evidence of them having been conquered. What happened?
There are many forms of private property in history. Still, we’ve lived most of our history, tens of thousands of years, in a cooperative or communist form of social organization. Because in North America early communist society persisted so long, some of what happened in Europe, for example, never happened here. Private property began in North America somewhere between 2,000 and 1,000 years ago. Private property begins with the accumulation of means of survival and means of production in some form of agriculture (including the domestication of animals). Slavery is a system of the ownership of private property. It becomes the dominant form of the ownership of private property as agriculture is able to produce enough to (barely) feed the slaves and a surplus product for (the lavish benefit of) the slave owner and his family and household. If you have a choice between being a member of a society that gives you what you need without being owned by someone, under what circumstances would you become a slave? Coercion? What would make such a society attractive?

Map of Fort Ancient

Map of Fort Ancient

I like to think (or fantasize) that in Cahokia, as the town grew larger and possibilities for accumulation grew, the people of Cahokia rejected the direction toward private property and dispersed. Probably they still had oral traditions of their past, even in some cases actual memories. We know that when Europeans did arrive in the Ohio and Illinois River valleys, they found evidence of the past in large effigy and burial mounds throughout the area we now call the Midwest and Southeast. As settling agriculturalists from Europe took and plowed the land, they probably destroyed most of the evidence of the existence of a diverse people we call “Mound Builders” now. However there are still extensive formations, such as the ones at Newark, at Fort Ancient, and at the Great Snake Mound, all in Ohio. And alongside these areas cultures developed that knew warfare, cultivated maize, and were in some transitional phase perhaps toward what we are describing as slavery.
But the Europeans, and particularly the English, brought to these areas a new form of private property, one that was just emerging. The development of trade was fundamental to this new form. Certainly some form of exchange has existed ever since private property existed. But trading societies were rare in antiquity. They were also subject to the dominance of slavery (e.g. Rome and Greece as prime examples) where warfare reduced conquered peoples to the status of slaves on agricultural plantations; or colonies required to purchase the goods produced in the trading society. In Europe that changed as first the dominant form of property ownership changed from people to land, that demanded that the person who worked the land have some stake in producing the product. And then, as the land produced increasing wealth, beyond what would be consumed in Europe; and as means for calculating the wealth changed; and as the means for exchanging the wealth improved with the extraction of precious metals from, and genocide of the peoples of, the Americas; so capitalism began to emerge.
Sometimes we tend to look around us and dismiss capitalism as super-consumption; empire; selling a product for more than you pay for it. Some of all of that is true, of course. But fundamentally, what capitalism does is it reduces everything to the level of a commodity, something made for sale, made for exchange rather than for the use of the maker.
In the case of slavery, where control of the human being is the form of private property that dominates, there is no exchange. The slave owner dispenses the product that the owner owns as he sees fit. There is no exchange between members of the slave owners’ family or between master and slave. Capitalism, however, grafted something new on the body of classical slavery. The French with sugar (Haiti for example) and the British with cotton (in the South of the U.S.) used the old form of slavery to build a world economic system of commodity production. This was capitalist slavery.
In the case of commodity production, the producer is ostensibly free to sell the only commodity he or she owns: the ability to work. Yes it is true that there are other commodities out in the world that the worker purchases. But once that commodity is purchased, it suffices as a substance of use for the buyer. It’s easiest to see this in terms of food, clothing, shelter for example. Capitalism is an economic system in which the worker is personally free; without work, he or she is also free to starve. Capitalists have no obligation to an unemployed worker as the Lord might have had toward the peasant on his land, or for that matter the classical slave owner. It is in this sense that we call capitalism, for the working class, wage-slavery. The worker has no place to turn except to the capitalist for obtaining the means of subsistence which the working class has produced. The capitalist then purchases the commodity that worker has to offer, but finds in that worker’s commodity something that no other commodity has: the ability to produce more means of subsistence than he or she needs to survive.
Slavery is a contract that says: you are mine, you owe me everything you produce. In return for producing for me, I the owner will keep you alive. I own whatever surplus product you make. Only force could compel this kind of contract.
Feudalism is a contract that says: the land is mine. I will let you have a parcel of land to work for yourself on a given number of days during the year. I will protect you from marauders. The rest of the time you must work for me on a different plot of land. I own everything you produce on that plot. Clearly the peasant has more incentive here: it is a system where it is clear what is mine and what is yours, without artifice. But as the peasant plots were reduced in size, the time allotted to cultivating them was decreased, and the forced servitude in the Lord’s armies increased, even this incentive vanished and force became primary.
In capitalism the contract says: I buy your commodity and set it to work in my means of production (factory, school, office, etc). Because I now own your commodity, I can work it as long as the contract says I can (to the limit of 24 hours per day – and that has been the case). Whatever you produce in that time is mine. With the wage that I pay you, you get to buy back from me and my class what you need to survive (food, clothing, shelter). But I get to accumulate the surplus product as mine, and to transform it into money. Not only that; I get to improve your productivity – that is your ability to produce more in the same amount of time for less cost. Thereby I get to make even more money.
A new quality has entered the realm of capitalism. Up until the last 30 years or so, the inevitable demise of capitalism, predicted 150 years ago because of increases of productivity, has been delayed. The main reason for this has been as the intensity of production (and productivity) exceeded the boundaries of each national market, capitalism had somewhere else to expand (meaning make war on, conquer, make part of an empire and export capital to in order to exploit). The intensity of exploitation was matched by extensivity. As capitalism has exported its commodity production from Boston to Bangladesh, from Iowa to India, from California to Chile, it has also streamlined production to eliminate or reduce its purchase of the commodity of the

Getting Back on Track: Service Robots 2010

Transforming what we know as productivity: Service Robots 2010

ability to work. Automation, in the era of electronics, has fundamentally transformed what we know as productivity. So the workers of India are competing against fully automated factories elsewhere (and the workers in the U.S. cannot find jobs at all).
What do we call it then, when workers are totally ejected from the relationship between employer and employed, when wage-slavery is not even an option? What do we call it when a totally surplus population is no longer needed by the owning class? When public housing is torn down, schools are closed, mental health facilities destroyed, water is privatized, school districts get military grade weapons to patrol the corridors, and police departments are equipped with military armored vehicles?
We are faced with a situation similar to many other transformations in society – yet totally new. It is a transformation in which the old form of ownership is attempting to protect its control of private property. But the impulse to transform society is not to another form of private property but to abolish private property entirely, to return it to common ownership. And the impulse is two fold. First and foremost, the impulse is the survival of the species. Secondly, within that, the survival of those cast out by capitalism can only be reached by the transformation to a society that provides for all.
Capitalism globally is moving to find ways to protect private property, which lead to increased use of force and violence. More and more the state merges with corporations and nationalization takes place in the interest of the corporations. We’re talking about fascism.
The people are increasingly and globally finding it necessary to challenge a system which can only destroy them. And that is the challenge of our time, the meaning of “Go Down Moses” today.
We are living in a time of abundance AND slavery, when the choices open to us are narrowing by the minute. Here is the bleak landscape capitalism offers us .Either we exist in a vortex of ever more impoverishing wage-slavery, or we are reduced to actual chattel-slavery or death. .
BUT we have an opening we have NEVER had before. We can choose abundance for all. We really have no option but to develop the revolutionary networks that go beyond petitioning pharaoh to “let our people go.” That is the task that the League of Revolutionaries for a New America has set itself. Please talk to me if you want to know more about the LRNA.

Don’t Shoot

Don’t Shoot

by Lew Rosenbaum


Amadou Diallo

23 years old

Guinean immigrant in the Bronx,

New York.

His name rolls off the tongue

Like waves rising from the port of Conakry

To crash at the foot of the Statue of Liberty.

Shot 41 times

By four white police officers.



Kelly Thomas

Thirty-seven years old

Homeless, Anglo, schizophrenic man.

Citrus-scented hallucinations

Taunt his fevered

Fullerton, California, street dreams.

Beaten to death by the police.



Michael Brown

19 years old

African American bound for college,

Hope gripped tight,

A future denied.

Shot 6 times

In Ferguson,Missouri.


Come: See the blood

Running in the streets of my country.


Does it matter

If it’s 41 shots

Or only 6 –

Or (merely) beaten to death?


Amadou Diallo’s killers

Were judged not guilty.

Kelly Thomas: verdict not guilty.

How will Michael Brown’s killers be judged?


Come see the blood,

Blood that torrents down the streets

Of my poor country.


Michael Brown, his student life opening before him;

Kelly Thomas, living in the trap of his delusions;

They achieved the equality of the bullet and night-stick,

Both shed blood to wash the streets of their cities.


Amadou’s mother cried out, sobbing:

She had “the talk” with her son.

Surely Michael’s mother had

“the talk.”

Even before Trayvon Martin

I had “the talk” with my grandson.

Today I shiver as his

Brown-skinned hands brandish his toy rifle.


Come see, how the blood

Floods the streets of my rich country.


These, our words, are

Our weapons.

Our weapons draw all the poor together

In what is a tapestry of common purpose,

That join us in a vision of a country

Where no one wants for a place to stay

For food to eat

For songs to sing


Where the conjoined blood

That today separately runs rivulets in the streets

Will bind us together

To return laughter to our throats

Peace to our hearts

Justice to our hands.




Ode To The Cell Phone

Ode to the Cell Phone

Lew Rosenbaum

We were sitting

in Royal Coffee

talking about

Ferguson, Missouri

cops killing

a young

black man


in the act of surrender

shooting him six times,

we were reading the

newspaper story

written by people


no different

than you

and I

a man and woman

outraged by events

wanting, needing

to give voice to

ordinary people

in the pages of

the People’s Tribune


When through the window

we saw a late 90s


cruise around the corner

come to a stop on Pratt

right there

across the street

under the amber

street light

followed by,

pulled over by

a blue-light special SUV.


Two cops stepped down

from their perch,

approached the olds

the one on the driver’s side

barked a command

and the driver

hands on the dashboard

an attitude that screamed

“I’ll do whatever you want

but see I don’t have a gun”

sat back

opened the door

with one hand

while keeping the other

in plain sight

gingerly planted his feet

outside onto the ground

slowly stood

then reached in his pocket

for his license,

the whole



like a liquid



A young woman

rides around the corner

on her bicycle,

dressed in shorts

this late summer day,

carrying her back pack

on her way home

from work?

or school?

mouth watering

as she almost smells

the barbecue waiting

on the table,

perhaps dreaming

of her children’s smiles,

gap toothed,

welcoming her home


but she stops short

to watch the

grim scene play out

the traffic stop

across from Royal Coffee

maybe it’s

more than it seems,

she reaches into her jacket

withdraws her cell phone

from her pocket

and records

the transaction


This time this wasn’t

Roshad McIntosh

Charles Brown

Ezell Ford

DeSean Pittman


But she was ready

to record

and spread

the news if

the unspeakable


bring us all

into the conversation

dig deep

into the groove of

our common humanity

demand our response


we could not dream about

a decade ago

bring us all together.


Think about it!

Were there others

peering from the

apartment windows,

cell phones in hand,

ready to record



Think about it!


That electronic technology

that chains us today

in the prison of

unemployment lines

what could it do

in the hands

of the people

what spirit it could unleash!

what possibilities accomplish!

what wounds it could heal!


No-Knock: An Artistic Speak-Out Against the American Police State

[I read a shorter version of this piece at a program organized by Adam Gottlieb for the Revolutionary Poets Brigade of Chicago, June 7, 2014, and in conjunction with other th-1readings going on around the country on this date on the theme of police brutality. The title of the event, No-knock, an Artistic Speak Out Against the ‘American Police State,‘ references the poem by Gil Scott-Heron, “No-Knock.”  I was honored to read with a dozen other artist activists,  whose eloquent and passionate words shaped Big Poems indeed.  One of the readers, Mariame Kaba, wrote a moving piece about her experience at the event, on the Prison Culture blog:  “Standing on a Soapbox, Calling out the Cops.” — Lew Rosenbaum]



Thanks to Adam for inviting me to present here today. Thanks to all the other presenters, whose important words you have heard and will hear. And a shout out to poets in New Orleans and San Francisco and perhaps elsewhere who are having similar events today, poets from 100,000 Poets for Change.

Today is Brooksday, Gwendolyn Brooks’ birthday, and the second annual marathon reading of Gwendolyn Brooks’ works, taking place at Printers’ Row Bookfair under the auspices of the Guild Complex and Third World Press. Ms. Brooks’ spirit is here, Gwendolyn Brooks spirit is here, the Gwendolyn Brooks who wrote, in her poem “Winnie”:


I am not a tight faced Poet.

I am tired of little tight-faced poets sitting down to

shape perfect unimportant pieces.

Gwendolyn Brooks

Gwendolyn Brooks

This is a time for Big Poems,

roaring up out of sleaze,

poems from ice, from vomit, and from tainted blood.

This is the time for stiff or viscous poems.

Big, and big.


This is the kind of poetry you will hear today.

If you travel across Lake Michigan from around Winnetka you will wind up on the beach near Benton Harbor. Benton Harbor is the home of Reverend Edward Pinkney, the first American banned from the internet. That’s right. Banned from using his computer so that the story of Whirlpool’s corporate domination of Benton Harbor will not get out;

thso that the story of the emergency manager dictatorships, popping up all over Michigan now but originating in Benton Harbor will not get out.

So that the story of the social face of fascism in this country will not get out.

Now that the corporations, like Whirlpool, are so thoroughly in bed with, embedded in, the political state, the protests emerging from places like Benton Harbor are challenging the legitimacy of corporate rule. Here is what the battle is about (most of the following comes from the online BlackList (

Rev. Pinkney has not been convicted of any crime whatsoever, but a gag order was issued forbidding him from using the Internet. His wife Dorothy has not even been accused of any crime, but she is forbidden from using the Internet in their home. No person who has been convicted using the Internet for cyber stalking, child pornography, or bank fraud has ever been banned from using the Internet, but Rev. Pinkney, who is accused of election fraud, was ordered to refrain from going online for any reason.

Rev. Pinkney sponsored a recall petition against the mayor of Benton Harbor, Michigan that gathered sufficient signatures. The recall petition has been more rigorously investigated than murders of young black men whose bodies are continually found in that area. Armed police officers went door to door interviewing petitioners and asking exactly what day (petitions had been circulated as much as six months before) they signed the petition. The rigorous investigation led to criminal charges against Pinkney. When he went to the hearing connected with this matter, a gag order was instituted that completely blocked him from using the Internet, although the petition for recall of the mayor did not collect online signatures.

At a hearing Thursday, June 5, 2014, the judge set a trial date for July 21, 2014 on his case of voter fraud. The judge did lift the house arrest and prohibition against using the internet conditions.

Rev. Pinkney’s arrest, gag order, and setting of a trial date on the flimsiest of evidence were probably instituted to prevent success of the following initiatives:
1) the annual OCCUPY the PGA demonstration, protesting the sale of public lands for a golf course for elitists;
2) the boycott against Whirlpool products (Whirlpool is #153 on the 2014 Fortune list of 500 biggest corporations);
3) the protest against Benton Harbor Police Department for refusing to investigate the mutilations and deaths of numerous black people, which are perceived by Rev. Pinkney and others as being unrequited racial murders; and
4) the recall of elected officials who Rev. Pinkney and others perceive as being in place to represent corporate interests rather than the people of Benton Harbor.

This story has been covered for over a decade by the People’s Tribune and Tribuno del Pueblo newspapers. The current, June 2014, issue has a cover story on Reverend Pinkney and a center spread which includes information about what you can do. Please take a copy. Donations are welcome and cover the cost of printing the paper so that the blackout against stories like this can be broken.

In order to respect the time of the other readers, I’d like to close with 2 short poems and a final invocation of Gwendolyn Brooks.

The first is by Ray Durem, an African American communist poet who wrote “Award.”

Award by Ray Durem (1915-1963)th-2

A Gold Watch to the FBI Man who has followed me for 25 years.

Well, old spy
looks like I
led you down some pretty blind alleys,
took you on several trips to Mexico,
fishing in the high Sierras,
jazz at the Philharmonic.
You’ve watched me all your life,
I’ve clothed your wife,
put your two sons through college.
what good has it done?
the sun keeps rising every morning.
ever see me buy an Assistant President?
or close a school?
or lend money to Trujillo?
ever catch me rigging airplane prices?
I bought some after-hours whiskey in L.A.
but the Chief got his pay.
I ain’t killed no Koreans
or fourteen-year-old boys in Mississippi.
neither did I bomb Guatemala,
or lend guns to shoot Algerians.
I admit I took a Negro child
to a white rest room in Texas,
but she was my daughter, only three,
who had to pee.


The second is a poem by John Beecher, who wonders whether Etowah County, Alabama is really part of the US, as we might wonder about Benton Harbor, Detroit and much of Michigan under the emergency dictatorships, or for that matter Chicago under the elected dictatorship of Rahm Emanuel:

th-3News Item (from Collected Poems, 1924-1974)

I see in the paper this morning

where a guy in Gadsden Alabama

by the name of John House

who was organizing rubber workers in a lawful union

against the wishes of the Goodyear Rubber Company and the Sheriff of Etowah County

was given a blood transfusion

after being beaten with blackjacks

by five parties unknown.

The Police Chief is “investigating”

and I have a pretty good idea of what that will amount to.

A few years ago they took Sherman Dalrymple

President of the United Rubber Workers of America

out of a peaceable union meeting in Gadsden

and right in front of the Etowah County court house

before the eyes of hundreds including the Sheriff

the deputies

beat him almost to death.

Plenty more

who have tried to organize workers in Etowah County

have had the same thing happen to them.


The Government of the United States

should know about John House

but maybe they won’t notice the little item

on the back pages of the Birmingham paper

because the front pages are all filled up with Hitler

and how he is threatening democracy

so I am asking

the Government of the United States

to pay a little attention to this.

To defend democracy

the Government of the United States

is building a lot of munitions plants around the country

with the people’s money

because the people want democracy defended

One of these plants is being built at Gadsden

in Etowah County Alabama —-

twenty-four million dollars worth of plant to be exact —-

twenty-four million dollars of the people’s money

going into a county

which isn’t even a part of the United States

Or is it?


I think it would be a good idea

for the Government of the United States

to look into this

and see if they can’t persuade Etowah

to come back in the Union

If persuasion won’t work they might try a little coercion

because the laws of the United States ought to be made good

and as luck would have it

there’s a great big Army camp at Anniston

just thirty miles away

Not long ago I drove through this camp

and I saw new barracks and tents all over the scenery

and thousands upon thousands of soldiers

getting ready to defend democracy

They looked to me

as if they could do it

and they looked to me

as if they wanted a try at it

Maybe they could get a little practice over in Etowah

before they pitch into

the foreign fascists


And finally, don’t let the messages you hear today end here. From Gwendolyn Brooks again, from the same poem, in the voice of Winnie Mandela, who says:

You don’t get all your questions answered in this world.

How many answers shall be found

in the developing world of my Poem?

I don’t know. Nevertheless I put my Poem,

which is my life, into your hands, where it will

do the best it can.


Come talk with me. Get a copy of the People’s Tribune today. Free Rev. Pinkney!