James Madison Bell

The Black Man's Wrongs

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Breathe softly on my harp, O Muse!
In gentle strains now clothe its songs,
Thy all inspiring force infuse,
While singing of the black man's wrongs.


Wrongs that defy the painter's skill,
Nor can the tongue e'er tell them o'er,
They seem at first a tiny rill,
And then a sea without a shore.


But here the feelings of the soul
Defy the language of the tongue.
Therefore if we in part unroll
The black man's wrongs, our task is done.


First view him in the Torrid Zone,
Sporting amid luxurious groves
Where nature delveth all alone,
And man in search of pleasure roves.


While there, his every meal was spread
By genial nature's bounteous hand,
Where he from childhood's morn had fed,
With all her gifts at his command.


At noon, beneath the spreading palm,
Or prostrate in some shady bower,
His soul inhaled the fragrant balm,
By zephyrs brought from fruit and flower.


No raging sea of sorrow there
Had e'er their muddy billow swept
Over his soul's instilling fear,
Nor had the man of pleasure wept.


But alas! this home was entered,
Entered by Christians wise and bold;
Christians, whose great heart was centered
On their nation's god of gold.


By Christians he was borne away,
In fetters o'er the trackless main,
To where the gospel's blaze of day
Looks smilingly on blood and pain.


Then begins a tale of weeping,
A tale of rapine and of woe,
Only known to him that's keeping
The record of man's acts below.


For since he crossed the rolling flood,
And landed on Virginia's shore,
His path presents a scene of blood
Unknown to history's page of yore.


His dearest friends are crushed and torn
Asunder, ne'er to meet again.
Fettered and branded, gagged and borne
Where moral death and darkness reign.


Their wailing cries afflict the ear,
Their groans and sighs so pain the heart,
Till often the unconscious tear
For these poor hapless, sad ones start.


'Tis not in mortal man to paint
The damning scenes transacted there,
At thought of which the heart grows faint
And clouds the brow with dark despair.


Were all the gags, bolts, bars and locks,
The thumbscrews, handcuffs and the chain,
The branding-iron and the stocks,
That have increased the Afric's pain,


Piled up by skillful smith or mason
With care in one great concave heap,
Those gory gyves would form a basin
Unnumbered fathoms wide and deep.


Could all their blood and tears alone
Flow in this basin, deep and wide,
The proudest ship, the world hath known,
Could on that basin's bosom ride.


And then, could all their groans and sighs,
Their anguished wailings of despair,
But freight that ship, just where she lies,
'Twould sink that mammoth vessel there.


Their blood and tears are treasured up
Where all their sighs and groans are stored,
And will, from retribution's cup,
Upon this guilty land be poured.


America, where is thy blush?
Or, is thy very heart of stone?
Will not thy millions cease to crush
The sable outraged few that groan?


Shall they, because their skins are dark,
Forever wear the galling chain?
Has hope for them no cheering spark
That wrong will one day cease to reign?


Thou great Goliath, stay thy frown!
Boast not thyself in thy great strength,
The brooklet's stone may bring thee down!
Thy sword may clip thy head at length!


Gone forth, long since, is the decree
That binds my shattered hopes in one,
Though I shall sleep, yet time will be,
What God has spoken, He will have done.


"Judgment is mine! I will repay!"
Thus saith the builder of the sky,
Although his judgments still delay,
With every sun they're drawing nigh.


Though hand in hand the wicked join,
"They shall be punished," saith the Lord.
Although like floods their strength combined,
They cannot stay the scourging cord.


For wrongs and outrage shall surcease;
The millions shall not cry in vain,
For God the captive will release
And break the bondsman's galling chain.


From 'neath the lash they shall extend
Their bleeding, trembling hand to God,
And He will to their rescue send
Stern retribution's chastening rod.


For if the blood of Abel slain
When crying, reached the Eternal's ear,
And was avenged on guilty Cain,
Has not this land great cause to fear?


And if the soul poured out in prayer,
Together with the falling tear,
Be objects of kind Heaven's care,
Then surely, retribution's near.


And if the darkest hour of night
Is just before the misty dawn,
Which flies away for morning light,
To gild and glad the fragrant dawn,


Then soon will freedom's clarion burst,
In sweet clear strains of liberty,
For of all time this is the worst
And darkest night of slavery.


When lo! the sages of your land,
Assembled in your highest court,
There leagued in sacrilegious band,
Send to the world the foul report,


Which herded, with the horse and cow,
And merchandise of every name,
All men who wear the sable brow,
Regardless of their rank or fame.


"Because the negro's skin is dark,
They say, he's made but for a slave;"
They felt not this when he, a mark,
On Bunker Hill stood 'mid the brave;


Nor felt they thus when Attucks fell
In seventeen seventy -- fifth of March,
When proud Boston tolled a bell
That caused each freeman's brow to arch.


Attucks, that brave and manly black,
Whose heart's blood was the first to flow
When England made her first attack
On Boston's freemen, years ago.


Then, then, was that proposal made
Which drew those black men in the field,
Who gladly joined the great crusade
And learned to die, but not to yield.


They said: "To all who will bear arms,
And fight in freedom's holy war,
Will liberty with open arms
Receive, and crown with freedom's star."


Then bondmen threw their shains aside,
And grasped a sword without a sheath,
And to the siege rushed on with pride
To fight for liberty, or death.


And when old England's ships of war
Came dashing through the crested foam,
Threatening to blot out every star
That gemmed and decked their father's home,


Then, black and white men stood abreast,
A massive wall of living stone,
And on, with earthquake tread, they pressed
And wrung this land from England's throne.


They, at the siege of Lexington,
At Bunker Hill and Brandywine,
At Monmouth and at Bennington,
Marched in freedom's battling line.


Nor did they sheathe their reeking sword,
Nor lay their heavy armor down,
Till the last booming cannon roared,
That swept the English from Yorktown.


Black warriors lay amid the host
That slumbers now near Bunker's heights,
Who fell, contending at their post,
For liberty and equal rights.


And on every hard-fought field,
Where freedom's noble sons were slain,
There, stretched beside their battle-shield,
Lay black and white men on the plain.


When pestilential famine's breath
Swept through the camp at Valley Forge,
There black and white men slept in death,
And gentle Schuylkill sang their dirge.


In days of yore, when carnage stared
This then great nation in the face,
Then blacks, as men they did regard,
And classed them with the human race.


But now they have no wars to fight,
No "Independence" to be won;
Sweet, smiling peace veils Bunker's heights,
And all their battling work is done.


Now from this nation's hall of state
Comes Roger Tanney's vile decree,
Composed of all the pith and hate
Of that dark land of slavery.


With him this guilty land unites
In trampling down the wronged and wrecked,
By claiming Negroes have no rights
That bind the white man to respect.


And thus the men, whose fathers fought
Of tyranny this land to rid,
They crushed to earth, without a thought
Of the great deeds their fathers did.


Alas! are there no meeds of praise
For freedom's heroes who have died;
Who bore the burden in those days
When bravest men's brave hearts were tried?


Is gratitude forever dead;
If not, would they thus destroy
The men, whose fathers fought and bled
For blessings that they now enjoy?


Look on the face of men like Ward,
Day, Douglas, Pennington, and then
Tell me whether these should herd
With beasts of burden or with men.


Why not, in view of all the lights
That mirror forth the black man's wrongs,
Extend to them those sacred rights
That justly to a man belongs?


They say he's veiled in sable hues,
And hence, with them of sinners chief,
They're more fastidious than the Jews,
Who hung the Christ and spared the thief.


Consistency, spread, spread thy wings!
Fly! fly! thou hast no mission here;
Fly to the land of pagan kings,
Unfurl thy bright credentials there.


Thou hast no mission in a land
Where man is crushed for being black;
As well go preach among the damned,
Or sing songs to a maniac.


But, oh, how long, great God! how long
Shall this sad state of things remain:
How long shall right succumb to wrong;
How long shall justice plead in vain?


How long! Oh, may we live to see
That natal day of jubilee,
When every fetter shall be riven,
And every heart praise God in heaven.

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James Madison Bell