Social Justice Poetry

legacy of slavery poems

10 Reasons the South Will Never Be Home | A Social Justice Poem by Khalisa Rae Williams

10 Reasons This Never Felt Like Home

1. Long back roads still rattle me. Still make me fear being asked to step out. The night stick, the gun, being turned to roadkill – being left on curb and forgotten.

2. The pitch black reminds me of the fire, the deep fried, boiled, tarred and feathered, the hanging and watching like gruesome drive in film.

3. Open fields remind me of the leather whip, of blood, of dragging and raking fingers through grass, still remind me of sweat-lathered cotton, body parts left out for fertilizer.

4. Farms and animals grazing remind me of the buying and selling of meat, the ripping baby from mother for consumption, the burning and branding, the slaughter, the hanging out to dry.

5. Big plantations remind me of house slave and field negro, of maid and mistress, of dinner service, bronze bodies as ornaments on antique shelf, expensive china fresh off the auction block.

6. State fairs remind me of ‘Come see the hanging Negro’, ‘Where can I place my bid?’ ‘This one has a strong back and good teeth, broad shoulders, and cheekbones.’ ‘Not the whole family, how much for the little boy and girl.’

7. Hunting season and woods still reminds me of running through forest, of bullets grazing black skulls, of branches cutting ankles, of underground railroads, of hiding under the creek, of coon dogs, and sniffing out the smell of a runaway.

8. The Cape Fear River reminds me of the drowning, the throwing bodies over the bridge to hide the evidence, the vanishing of whole families, how they threw us over ships like fresh water salmon.

9. Boxing matches still remind me of strapping brute blacks fighting for bets, the bare knuckle knocking out until unconscious for entertainment. How they used to toast to the tearing of flesh. Smoked a cigar in celebration when one was dead.

10. Southern belle and sweet tea still smell like centuries of injustice. Southern comfort taste like privilege. Southern hospitality still sounds too unsettling to ever feel like home.

A Tribute to Richard Collins III | A Social Justice Poem by Marcelius Braxton

Why is it that we must justify our humanity to you—even in death?
No, not death, murder.
Isn’t it bad enough to be stabbed by a white supremacist who hates me for my melanin?
Does it matter if I served my country or served in the penitentiary?
Not when I was just minding my business, waiting for an Uber to take me home after a long night.
But it matters for some—And I wonder why.
Can’t it be enough that I’m a person?
Or must I be exceptional to not deserve to be butchered in the street?

And the worst thing? The trickle-down effect.
No, I’m not talking Reaganomics, but he did play his role in the stigma
That a black man is dangerous—that one drug equals criminal
While the other equals treatment.
Why must someone be white to get sympathy?
I digress, for now.

The pain trickles down, for little black boys and little black girls.
And let us be honest, it’s not just the little ones.
We are strong; we are built strong, with the resolve of our ancestors,
Who took beatings,
And inhumanity.
Yet, still they showed us that black is so powerful, so beautiful, and so unique.

And, in the irony and contradiction that is truly encompassed in the American Dream,
Teenage white kids, whose ancestors lynched us,
Beat us in the street,
And poured milkshakes over our heads,
Now imitate our walk and our talk,
And they want to be us…without really wanting to be us.

But in the end, how strong can we (do we) always have to be?

Self-doubt trickles down,
And even within our refuge of pride and self-worth,
There is bound to be a crack or two.
And the doubt of whether we deserve to live or exist seeps in
Because the whole world is telling us that our existence
Is conditional.
We talk to white kids about their mental health.
We tell them they deserve a second (and third and fourth and fifth) chance at life
Because they are so ingrained with this belief that the world is theirs for the taking.
Meanwhile, black boys and girls toil over whether they are even meant for the world.

Could it be that we are destroying these little boys and girls
Before the stabbings, the police shootings,
The choking,
And the traffic stops that result in our deaths?

Could it be that the problem is a society that tells little black boys and little black girls
That they are completely meaningless—
Unless they are perfect?

I’ll consult the court system that gives slaps on the wrist to the affluent lighter shades
While the darker shades serve long sentences
For the same offense.

So, in our desperation,
We acquiesce.
And we preempt you
By telling you that we aren’t criminals, thugs, or drug dealers.
We tell you that we serve our country and that we graduated from school.

But does my degree make me worthy?
Am I safe if I show you my non-existent criminal record
Or even my law degree?

Or could I still be murdered in the street,
And have naysayers reply with suspicion?

Even in death, we are America’s suspect.

And, by the way, just so you know,
I am not a thug.

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American Pastoral: Barn with Flag on a Rural Road in Virginia | A Social Justice Poem by Linda Kennedy

For months the same: weathered gray, all of its doors flung open—
a shelter announcing a pregnant vacancy, a standing invitation
to passers-by. Today, driving towards it, it poses anew,
sits atop its own shadow. All doors are shut, can’t be jimmied.
Crows gather, attempt to blanket the whitewash climbing
the barn’s face. Braking, I roll down the window.
A Rebel flag agitates atop a pole jacked up in redneck myth,
white Klan, and blue Southern bloodlines, blusters propaganda.
I look away from colors which never cease bleeding
through from the past. Time to drive past this indenture.
The flag curls its lip, cracks and snaps at my back. My flesh shivers.

At 100, Gramps Recalls Life in Mississippi | A Social Justice Poem by Donal Mahoney

Being poor on our patch of land
was better than being poor
all the years I’ve lived in the city.
We had a couple of cows,
a rooster and seven hens.
We had milk and eggs and meat
in back of the shack we lived in.

In summer we had a garden
and we canned tomatoes and beans.
Pa bought flour by the gunny sack
and it didn’t cost that much.
Mom baked bread and biscuits.
There were 12 of us back then
and we loved biscuits and gravy.

Slavery wasn’t dead too long
so we had odd jobs all year round.
The plantations needed help.
A retired doctor would come out
to the house for a nice chicken
Pa would clean and cut up.
That was Mississippi in the Twenties.
Probably nicer down there now.
I was a tyke in short pants then.
As long as we avoided the noose,
we had food and beds to sleep in.

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