Red Summer: Text and meaning in Claude McKay’s “If We Must Die” (part 1 of 4)

The summer of 2015 marks the 96th anniversary of the publication of Harlem Renaissance poet Claude McKay’s masterful poem, “If We Must Die.” This essay is presented in commemoration of that literary milestone and in remembrance of the extraordinary Red Summer of 1919 that inspired it.

There were many good reasons to believe America had entered––or at least was about to enter––a golden era of post-racialism following the election of Barack Obama in 2008. Among them was the election of the country’s first African-American president itself, an increasingly diverse American population, and a sociopolitical landscape made more democratic (in appearance at least) by the various influences of technological innovation.

Unfortunately, none of those good noble reasons were able to withstand the onslaught of reality as the number of hate groups in the country began to increase almost immediately, even while the Black prison population and Black unemployment rates continued to do the same. In a word, the country was nowhere near “there” yet.

Red Summers of Yesterday and Today

The growing number of cities where protest demonstrations have occurred over the past few years in response to extreme uses of force by policemen against African Americans, and the very oppressive conditions under which many African Americans continue to live, is eerily similar to another riot-filled time in U.S. history. The period which might first come to mind for most people is the 1960s, a decade in which “race riots” flared up every other year in places such as Greensboro, N.C. (1960), Los Angeles (Watts), Calif. (1964), Detroit, Michigan (1967), and Baltimore (1968).

However, the historical moment which possibly resembles the current intense state of racial affairs the most is that of the period leading up to the Red Summer of 1919. As pointed out in Facts on File’s Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance:

To enjoy this complete article by Aberjhani with accompanying video please click below:

Red Summer: Text and meaning in Claude McKay’s “If We Must Die” (part 1 of 4) – National African-American Art |


To Wish a President Happy Birthday

President Obama celebrating birthday with family and friends.

President Obama celebrating birthday with family and friends.

With reports that the “honeymoon” phase of Barack Obama’s presidency have come to a close, it’s probably a good thing that today is his birthday and, because of that fact, he likely can count on some guaranteed TLC from various camps throughout the nation. The following was initially published in The Savannah Tribune in honor of the president’s inauguration and is presented at this time to say Happy Birthday Mr. President and thank you for hanging in there.

There upon a Bough of Hope and Audacity

Songbird of speckled feathers and new millennium eyes,
you trill notes of democratic vistas heavy with light.
Chords of miraculous notions enrich your blessed voice
with strength to sing dreams into deeds well done.
Above your head Sallie Hemings’ children laugh rainbows.

You are neither Christ nor King nor Lincoln.
But what you are is willing, capable, and sincere,
there upon a bough of hope and audacity
as branded by history as any have ever been.
Knights of global tables toast the lyrics of your vision.

A grand son of two continents, your heart marches
to the glorious world beat of universal drummers,
and your American dream dutifully follows: one step
for peace, another for justice, two more for strength.
Harriet Tubman’s tears splash prayers for your success.

From where you perch, the trade winds of destiny
lift your songs like leaves of silken prophecies,
scattering the soft true gold of their melodies and joy:
to their rhythm a world sways, hums, and dares to believe.

by Aberjhani
(from The Bridge of Silver Wings 2009)

Continue the discussion on