black american writers

To the millions of Muslim, LGBTQ+, women, all People of Color, disabled and immigrant humans living in fear in America right now: I stand with you. I love you. We will endure. “They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds.” Take that to heart. We will continue to grow. Stand up for each other always. Stand up against the hate that is here, and that is to come. We will push back by coming together. We will make it. You are valid. You are strong. You belong here, you belong here, you belong here.


You declare you see me dimly
through a glass which will not shine,
though I stand before you boldly,
trim in rank and marking time.
You do own to hear me faintly
as a whisper out of range,
while my drums beat out the message
and the rhythms never change.

Equality, and I will be free.
Equality, and I will be free.

You announce my ways are wanton,
that I fly from man to man,
but if I’m just a shadow to you,
could you ever understand ?

We have lived a painful history,
we know the shameful past,
but I keep on marching forward,
and you keep on coming last.

Equality, and I will be free.
Equality, and I will be free.

Take the blinders from your vision,
take the padding from your ears,
and confess you’ve heard me crying,
and admit you’ve seen my tears.

Hear the tempo so compelling,
hear the blood throb in my veins.
Yes, my drums are beating nightly,
and the rhythms never change.

Equality, and I will be free.
Equality, and I will be free. 

Maya Angelou                    


Martin Luther King Jr. with Coretta Scott King 

Martin Luther King Jr. with Harry Belafonte


Albery Allson Whitman (1851-1901)

African American poet, minister and orator. Born into slavery, Whitman created a successful career for himself as a writer, and during his lifetime was acclaimed as the “Poet Laureate of the Negro Race”. (Wikipedia)

From our stacks: Title page and frontispiece from Not a Man, and Yet a Man. By A. A. Whitman. Springfield, Ohio: Republic Printing Company, 1877.

Audre Lorde

Audre Lorde, a self-proclaimed “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet,” was a writer, feminist, womanist, and civil rights activist. For Lorde, writing proved to be her powerful weapon against injustice. Painfully aware that differences could provoke prejudice and violence, she promoted the bridging of barriers.

Lorde began writing poetry at age twelve. She was inspired by poets such as Keats, Edna St. Vincent Millay and Helene Margaret. As the first Black student at Hunter High School, a public school for intellectually gifted girls, she worked on the school newspaper and published her first poem, “Spring, ” in Seventeen Magazine in 1951.

Her homo-erotic feelings began to emerge during her teenage years, through various crushes on female peers and teachers. So after graduation from high school, Lorde left her parents’ home and attended Hunter College. She surrounded herself with leftist thinkers and lesbian friends. 

Audre Lorde dedicated her life to combating social injustice. She helped found Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, the world’s first publishing company run by women of color. She was also a founding member of Sisters in Support of Sisters in South Africa, an organization that worked to raise concerns about women under apartheid.

In 1968, Lorde received a National Endowment for the Arts grant and published her first volume of poetry, “The First Cities” as a poet-in-residence at Tougaloo College in Mississippi. She began a romantic relationship with Frances Clayton that same year that would last until Lorde’s death in 1992.

As a poet, she is best known for technical mastery and emotional expression, as well as her poems that express anger and outrage at civil and social injustices she observed throughout her life.Her poems and prose largely deal with issues related to civil rights, feminism, and the exploration of black female identity. Lorde won international acclaim for her poetry and prose, and was Poet Laureate of New York state from 1990 until 1991.

As a lecturer in 1970, Lorde engaged diverse student bodies on the interlocking identities of class, race, and gender, with history and culture. 

Lorde reached audiences with her numerous writings. She published 15 books of poetry and prose, including 1984′s “Sister Outsider,” which is often included in the curriculum of women’s studies programs. In 1983, “Zami” hit the shelves. Lorde referred to it as a “biomythography,” but it was essentially her autobiography.

In addition to poetry, Audre Lorde was a powerful essayist and writer. In terms of her nonfiction work, she is best remembered for The Cancer Journals (1980), in which she documents her own struggle with breast cancer. Having undergone a mastectomy, Lorde refused to be victimized by the disease. Instead, she considered herself—and other women like her—to be warriors. The cancer later spread to her liver and this latest battle with the disease informs the essay collection, A Burst of Light (1989). This time, she chose to pursue alternative treatments rather than to opt for more surgery.

Dying on November 17, 1992, on the island of St. Croix, the largest of the U.S. Virgin Islands,  Audre Lorde spent a lifetime exploring the pleasures and pain of being a black woman in America. Lorde’s was an essential voice in African American literature.

As a lesbian woman of color Lorde asserted, “I have a duty to speak the truth as I see it and to share not just my triumphs, not just the things that felt good, but the pain, the intense, often unmitigating pain.”

“Lorde was a woman for all times and all people.”


Maya Angelou (April 4, 1928 – May 28, 2014) 

American poet, memoirist, and civil rights activist. (Wikipedia)

From our stacks: Dust jacket front and back from Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘fore I Diiie. The Poetry of Maya Angelou. New York: Random House, 1971.

Challenge Your Shelf Day 27: Purple

Feel free to join in the challenge by clicking on the link here. I will be posting a link to the February challenge soon so keep an eye out for that if you’d like to start then. My ask and message box is always open for book talk!



On August 7, 1930 The last confirmed lynching of blacks in the Northern United States occurred as Thomas Shipp and Adam Smith were lynched by a white mob in Marion, Indiana.

The night before a young white factory worker named Claude Deeter was shot and critically injured. Deeter and his companion, a young woman, told police they had been attacked by young African-American males. The woman told authorities she had been raped, a claim she later admitted was false while under oath. Sheriff Jay Campbell set out to look for the alleged perpetrators and arrested Thomas Shipp, 19, Adam Smith, 18, and James Cameron, 16, at their homes.

The three young men were held at the local jail on suspicion of murder, robbery, and rape where they were beaten by the sheriff and his deputies until a “confession” was secured.
Word spread quickly through the county and throngs of people descended on the town clogging the courthouse square with bodies. Some estimates by local journalists put the number of people between 7,000-10,000.

Around 7:30pm word reached the crowd that Claude Deeter had died at Marion Hospital. Police brought Deeter’s bloody shirt to the square and hung it on the front window of the police station. This incensed the mob and members retrieved a length of new rope from the local hardware store along with sledgehammers and crowbars. Though he refused to unlock the jail, Sheriff Jay Campbell ordered his men not to attack the mob who soon gained entry.

Shipp was taken from his cell first and quickly beaten to death with a crowbar. Then rioters dragged his body down the sidewalk kicking and striking it with bricks, boards, and shoes along the way. They then hung his body from the jail window next to Deeter’s shirt. The mob then returned to the jail and removed the 18 year old Smith from his cell. Though beaten, he was carried alive to the old maple where members of the mob prepared a second noose and lifted him into the tree. Struggling for his life, Smith reached up and attempted to untie the noose. Several men came forward, lowered him down, stabbed him and broke his arms before lifting him up again. They then re-hung Shipp’s lifeless body next to Smith. Photographer Laurence Beitler was called in to take a formal portrait of the dead boys and crowd, a regular ritual in spectacle lynchings.

After the murder, the crowd milled around for about twenty minutes taking photographs and then returned to the jail to retrieve Cameron. Barred by the Sheriff, they chanted loudly for the sixteen year old, something Cameron would remember for the rest of his life. Pushing past the Sheriff they took hold of Cameron and carried him to the tree where a noose was placed around his neck and he was lifted up. As the rope tightened around his throat, the crowd began to argue and debate among themselves. Some said Cameron was too young, others said he had nothing to do with crime. Those advocating for his life won out and they lowered him from the tree returned him to the jail where he was smuggled out of the area by Sheriff Campbell. Lifelong scars from the attempted lynching remained visible around Cameron’s neck.

Pictures of the event were widely circulated, sparking national debate. Much attention was paid to the presence of children during the lynching. Teacher, songwriter, and labor activist Abel Meeropol saw the photos during and subsequently wrote the poem ‘Bitter Fruit’ under his pseudonym Lewis Allan, a scathing attack on the American practice of lynching. He later set the poem to music and changed the name to 'Strange Fruit’. The song was covered by Billie Holiday becoming an international. The song brought much attention to the routine brutality against African-Americans that was so common during the era.

Many Northerners reacted with shame as lynching was widely and falsely believed to be a Southern phenomena. The stark photos brought to light the reality of the practice in the Northern territories and the horrifying carnival like atmosphere of the open murders. This was the last public lynching in the North. Pieces of the rope used in the lynching were kept by members of the mob.

Cameron later stood trial, charged with being an accessory before the fact to the killing of Claude Deeter though little evidence was available and he was definitely not present at the time of the shooting. He served four years in jail and after being paroled in 1935 he moved to Detroit, Michigan where he attended Wayne State University to become a boiler engineer.
After graduating he found a job, began raising a new family, and began his lifelong work in civil rights activism. He founded several branches of the NAACP, including Madison County, Muncie, and South Bend, Indiana. From 1942 - 1950 he served as Indiana State Director of Civil Liberties reporting to Governor of Indiana Henry Schricker on violations of the “equal accommodations” laws designed to end segregation. During his eight-year tenure, Cameron investigated numerous incidents of civil rights infractions. He faced routine death threats and violence because of this work

By the 1950’s Cameron had grown weary of battling militant racists and moved to Milwaukee seeking a safer life for his wife and five children. There Cameron continued his work in civil rights by helping to organize direct action to end segregated housing in the city. He also participated in both marches on Washington the first with Martin Luther King, Jr., and the second with King’s widow Coretta Scott King. He studied history in his spare time and between 1955 and 1989 he published scores of articles and booklets detailing civil rights and occurrences of racial injustices, including “What is Equality in American Life?”; “The Lingering Problem of Reconstruction in American Life: Black Suffrage”; and “The Second Civil Rights Bill”.

in 1991 Cameron was officially pardoned by Indiana Governor Evan Bayh and the Indiana Parole Board. In 1999 he received an honorary doctoral degree (Doctor of Humanities) from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

After a visit with his wife to the Yad Vashem memorial in Israel during the early '80’s Cameron was inspired to found America’s Black Holocaust Museum. He mortgaged his house and led a grassroots campaign to fund the project, gaining support from regular people and some wealthy philanthropists. A twelve thousand square-foot gym was purchased for one dollar from the City of Milwaukee, Wisconsin and renovated with the money raised. In 1988 the museum opened to wide acclaim. It featured artifacts, photographs, postcards, and recordings dealing with slavery, lynching during Jim Crow, and the 20th century civil rights movement. Much of the material was from Cameron’s personal collection, gathered during his work as an investigator and political revolutionary. In 2008, two years after his death, the museum closed because of financial problems. It reopened on Cameron’s birthday, February 25, 2012, as a virtual museum.