Social Justice Poetry

Before Michael Brown and Freddie Gray | A Social Justice Poem by Donal Mahoney

Who celebrates
the birthday of a tree?
Birds and squirrels, perhaps,
but not Michael Brown
and not Freddie Gray
and not Rufus Jackson, who was
hung from a weeping willow in 1863.

Rufus stole an apple pie
cooling on a window sill,
a farmer’s wife said.
She told her husband about it
when he came in from threshing.
An uncle found Rufus
and cut him from the tree.

His family buried him
behind a willow not too far
from a barn in Mississippi
where two men took Emmitt Till,
a boy from the city, in 1958.
Both men said Emmitt had
whistled at a white man’s wife.

The two men beat Emmitt,
gouged an eye out, shot him
in the head, tossed his body
in the Tallahatchie River, not far
from the grave of Rufus Jackson,
said to have stolen an apple pie, then
hung from a weeping willow in 1863.

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