I will accept nothing which any man or woman, of any color, cannot have their counterpart of on the same terms,
These limbs, red, black, or white, they are cunning in tendon and nerve,
Within there runs blood,
The same old blood! the same red-running blood!
I guess the grass is a uniform hieroglyphic,
And it means, Growing among black folks as among white,
Kanuck, Tuckahoe, Congressman, Cuff, I give them the same, I receive them the same—
Red, white, black, are all deific.
The great masters accept black as soon as white, reject none.
In Boston, at the eating-houses, a black, when he wants his dinner, comes in and takes a vacant seat wherever he finds one—and nobody minds it. As for me, I am too much a citizen of the world to have the least compunction about it—
You black, divine-soul’d African, large, fine-headed, nobly-form’d, superbly destin’d, on equal terms with me!
Many black boys join’d the army;
Well, no one can see them without feeling well pleas’d with them.
As to assisting such a person, if I can do it, whether he be black or whether he be white, if he comes to me he gets what I can do for him;
Among the black soldiers, wounded or sick and in the contraband camps, I also took my way whenever in their neighborhood, and did what I could for them.
The runaway slave came to my house and stopt outside,
While he has committed no crime further than seeking his liberty and defending it, as the Lord God liveth, I would help him and be proud of it, and protect him if I could.
Through the swung half-door of the kitchen I saw him limpsy and weak,
And went where he sat on a log and led him in and assured him,
And brought water and fill’d a tub for his sweated body and bruis’d feet,
And gave him a room that enter’d from my own, and gave him some coarse clean clothes,
And remember perfectly well his revolving eyes and his awkwardness,
And remember putting plasters on the galls of his neck and ankles;
He staid with me a week before he was recuperated and pass’d north,
I had him sit next me at table, my fire-lock lean’d in the corner.
I am the poet of slaves and of the masters of slaves
I go with the slaves of the earth equally with the masters,
And I will stand between the masters and the slaves,
Entering into both so that both shall understand me alike.
I see the enslaved, the overthrown, the hurt, the opprest of the whole earth,
I feel the measureless shame and humiliation, it becomes all mine.
I am the hounded slave, I wince at the bite of the dogs,
Hell and despair are upon me, crack and again crack the marksmen,
I clutch the rails of the fence, my gore dribs, thinn’d with the ooze of my skin,
I fall on the weeds and stones,
The riders spur their unwilling horses, haul close,
Taunt my dizzy ears and beat me violently over the head with whip-stocks.
I am the hunted slave who flags in the race at last, and leans up by the fence, blowing and covered with sweat,
The murderous buck-shot and the bullets,
And the twinges that sting like needles his breast and neck,
All this I not only feel and see but am.
As to slavery, abstractly and practically, (its idea, and the determination to establish and expand it,) it is too common to identify it exclusively with the south. In fact down to the opening of the war, the whole country had about an equal hand in it. The north had at least been just as guilty, if not more guilty; and the east and west had.
I can myself almost remember negro slaves in New York State,
I remember “old Mose,” one of the liberated West Hills slaves, well. He was very genial, correct, manly, and cute, and a great friend of my childhood,
I was a decided and out-spoken anti-slavery believer myself, then and always.
Slavery, the arch-enemy personified—
I say the land that has a place for slaves and the owners of slaves has no place for free men,
Everyone that speaks his word for slavery, is himself the worst slave.
I say where liberty draws not the blood out of slavery—the absolute extirpation and erasure of slavery—there slavery draws the blood out of liberty.
On and on to the grapple with slavery, and the murderous, treacherous conspiracy to raise it upon the ruins of all the rest—
Where the slave ceases, and the master of slaves ceases,
There the great city stands,
The free city! No slaves! No owners of slaves!
In his appointed day the slave becomes a god.
The American aborigines—the North American ‘Indians,’ as they are miscalled—are not nothing.
I work’d several months in the Interior Department at Washington, in the Indian Bureau. Along this time there came an unusual number of aboriginal visitors—men, indeed chiefs, in heroic massiveness, imperturbability, muscle, and the full exploitation and fruitage of a human identity.
There is something about these aboriginal Americans, in their highest characteristic representations, essential traits, and the ensemble of their physique and physiognomy—something very remote, very lofty—something that our literature, portrait painting, etc., have never caught, and that will almost certainly never be transmitted to the future, even as a reminiscence. It is so different, so far outside our standards of eminent humanity.
Every head and face is impressive, even artistic. Though some of the young fellows were magnificent and beautiful, I think the palm of unique picturesqueness, in body, limb, physiognomy, etc., was borne by the old or elderly chiefs, and the wise men.
I should not apply the word savage (at any rate, in the usual sense) as a leading word in the description of those great aboriginal specimens. There were moments, as I look’d at them, when our own exemplification of personality, dignity, heroic presentation anyhow (as in the conventions of society, or even in the accepted poems and plays,) seem’d sickly, puny, inferior.
A red squaw came one breakfast-time to the old homestead,
She had long eyelashes, her head was bare, her coarse straight locks descended upon her voluptuous limbs and reach’d to her feet,
Her step was free and elastic, and her voice sounded exquisitely as she spoke.
My mother look’d in delight and amazement at the freshness of her tall-borne face and full and pliant limbs,
The more she look’d upon her she loved her,
Never before had she seen such wonderful beauty and purity.
O my mother was loth to have her go away,
She remember’d her many a winter and many a summer,
She gave her remembrance and fondness,
But the red squaw never came nor was heard of there again.
A muffled sonorous sound, a wailing word is borne through the air for a moment:
(The sense of the word is “lament for the aborigines.”)
I see swarms of stalwart chieftains, medicine-men, and warriors,
As flitting by like clouds of ghosts, they pass and are gone in the twilight,
Unlimn’d they disappear.
Osceola, a young, brave, leading Seminole, surrender’d to our troops; imprison’d, sicken’d of his confinement and literally died of “a broken heart.”
As to our aboriginal population, I know it seems to be agreed that they must gradually dwindle as time rolls on, and in a few generations more leave only a reminiscence, a blank.
Race of the woods, the landscapes free, and the falls!
No picture, poem, statement, passing them to the future.
But I am not at all clear about that. As America, from its many far-back sources and current supplies, develops, adapts, entwines, faithfully identifies its own—are we to see it cheerfully accepting and using all the contributions of foreign lands from the whole outside globe—and then rejecting the only ones distinctively its own—the autochthonic ones?
NEXT: MORALITY AND MONEY