Poems by C. Liegh McInnis

Bob Moses: Gardener of Minds
For Hollis Watkins (Slight Return)
Mississippi Courage: A Lighthouse to the World
For Freedom Summer
The Bridge (For Medgar at the Crossroads)
Put the Ghosts to Rest (for Rainey Pool)


Your overalls fit you like a well woven truth,
as you have tilled the fields of our resources,
moving us from sharecroppers to social mathematicians.

You are a gardener, finding the rich minerals of the Earth
in soil left for waste by years of white erosion.
You put your hands deep into the soil of our brains
and cultivated capacious crops of communities.
You have shown us that the equation for liberation
is love + work = freedom.

You taught us that votes count if we count our votes,
that numbers are our shield and sword
in the battle for equality,
and that all voices matter if we matter to till and raise them.

With your edifying tools, you plowed our minds
and dropped seeds of the movement that swelled
in the bellies of our soul and produced fruit for the ages.
Your Algebra project projects primary numbers
to answer the call for new wheat to harvest
the next yield of mass movement.

[Homage to SNCC activist Robert (Bob) Moses, a key leader of the 1960s campaign for voting rights and grassroots Black political power in Mississippi, and later founder of the Algebra Project which labors for education equality.]



"Oh yeah!...Everythang, everythang, everythang gon' be alright dis mornin'!"
Muddy Waters

From Mississippi's McComb madhouse, swirling
with a cobra's nest of combustible Klan calamity,
Hollis went marching into the breaking dawn of destiny.
The son of a carpenter sent to construct
some sovereignty for his people,
he planted his body at the intersection of
injustice to be a champion for Civil Rights.
A Summit solider sanctified by SNCC,
he heeded the clarion call
from a Moses molding fishers of men.
An early disciple of voter registration,
his blood boiled for direct action
so, with cool cowboy Curtis Hayes,
—sauntering into Dodge City
like Bill Pickett and Nat Love—
Hollis willingly walked into the Dragon's Lair
filled with the flaming white violence
of Woolworth's Drugstore looking for
the medicine of justice and demanding
to be served a breakfast platter of dignity.
One of the many Daniels who dared
to be seated at the Dragon's dinner table,
and like all SNCC Shepherds
Hollis readily took the best cloth to wash
the feet of the people while himself being
marched from judgment hall to judgment hall
incarcerated for instigating humanity
while shocking and shaking the stool stains
of supremacy from southern psychopaths:
"Michael rowed the boat ashore hallelujah!"
A singing Civil Rights knight who preached
the gospel of crimson sacrifice
melting Mississippi's Jim Crow iceberg
so that we can all be baptized
in the ruby river of righteousness.
And when the McComb Cage could
no longer clip their wings,
Hollis and Hayes strolled into the hell-pit of Hattiesburg
working as door to door liberation witnesses
while serving as sawmill stewards.
But like all great bluesmen Hollis knew
he had to stand at the dusty crossroad
of Deep South dichotomy where
direct action and voter registration danced
as far too many well-fed fat-pig Negroes
bloated with middle-class delusion
were cemented into submission by the
ice-cold grip of economic frostbite.
Still, Hollis submitted himself to serve
more time than most people attend school
his jail sentence becoming the fuel
that finally ignited and freed the masses
from their frigid fear while he fought for agendas
that illuminated the shining souls of the oppressed
rather than incinerating them into the ashes
of somebody else's afterthought.
From a stampeding SNCC student
to a Tougaloo tornado twisting
white wrongs into rainbow rights
then blossoming into a fiery freedom school professor...

Your life is a Freedom Song
played in a spiraling wind that drips along
a magnolia breeze pregnant with evening storm clouds
rolling over Jim Crow levies;
"Ain't scared of nobody 'cause I want my freedom..."
Like the water we drink,
we live off royalties from your sweat,
and we find home by the crimson blueprint of your steps—
narrow, straight, and lonely is the highway of truth-telling,
but bright is the path that your freedom fire has floodlit for us.
You remain a grade school teacher correcting our wrongs.
With the fertilizer of history, you nurture our ebony seeds.
Your legacy is a resounding Southern Echo that
reverberates through the heart of Dixie like a steel dagger.
Mightier than Maytag and Whirlpool,
you are an agitator for justice,
washing the dirt of domination and control
from the dingy ideology of America.
"I'll organize 'cause I want my freedom..."
You helped to make crooked lines straight by lending
your voice to the re-drawing of geographic power pictures.
You are a bloody lamb that bore the cross of incarceration so
that we may drink from the cup of liberty more abundantly.
The twelfth disciple of a McComb matador,
you helped turn non-violence into a mighty weapon
to slay the Dragons of Dixie.
While starring in the premihre of Woolworth's Opening Act,
inside, your thoughts and emotions were two wrestling
weather fronts, knowing you had to act illegally
to get some justice, as the weight of Ma and Pa's wrought-iron
values saturated with salvation sat steadily on your shoulders
like shadows of history creeping into a new day.
You waited for breakfast,
knowing your meal would be a penitentiary omelet.
But you ate your fill so that we
may eat from the pie of freedom.
"I'll tell the truth 'cause I want my freedom..."
A tongue like a switch blade and a mind like a bullwhip,
you've shredded more white lies
than a tobacco company executive.
Your feet have walked up the backside of colonization.
Your eyes have seen through
the malaised mirrors of conservatism.
Your hands have coddled babies from
the smoking fire of Johnny Reb.
Your smile has beamed a baptizing glow of affirmation
that all is well when we walk like Job,
wrapped with the golden garment of Truth.
Tomorrow's flowers will grow tall
as they take communion from the root of your tree,
and are soaked with your nectar,
so they can continue to pollinate the movement.
SNCC baby, Tougaloo troubadour, Freedom architect...

"Oh yeah!...everythang, everythang, everythang gon' be alright dis mornin'!"

[Postscript: McComb, Mississippi, native and later Tougaloo College graduate Hollis Watkins Muhammad was the first Mississippian to join the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) while still in high school. He led some of the first sit-ins in Mississippi, served as a SNCC Field Secretary during Freedom Summer, and helped to organize some of the first Freedom Schools. Then, he later co-founded Southern Echo with Mike Sawyer and Leroy Johnson, which led the 1990 charge of redistricting that more than doubled the number of black elected officials in Mississippi. Alumni of Southern Echo include Nsombi Lambright (the first black female to be head of the Mississippi ACLU), Mac Epps co-founder of MS M.O.V.E., and Derrick Johnson (Current President and CEO of the NAACP). This is the legacy of Movement work and leadership that Hollis leaves. For more about his legacy, read Brother Hollis: The Sankofa of a Movement Man.

Along with all of us working to honor Hollis' life with how we live ours, it also shows just how important the work that many are doing here to preserve and teach our history while we inspire others to learn and make even more necessary impacts in our Movement toward a better world. Hollis Watkins Muhammad's story is now our story, and I can only hope that we write ours at least half as well as he wrote his.]


(for Medgar, Fannie Lou, and Ms. Devine) from Da Black Book of Linguistic Liberation

Courage is a lighthouse guiding ships to salvation.
Courage is a fire that burns down the dead weeds of racism
that rise to suffocate the voices of liberty.
Courage is an antibiotic that kills the bacteria of hatred.
Courage was the nucleus of the Mississippi Trinity.
Three lamps full of freedom oil that shined
the path to the dirt and gravel roads of liberation:
an insurance salesman, a sharecropper, and a teacher.
Three instructors of liberation, teaching that
righteous knees only bow before God and that
the children of God have an unyielding, organic duty
to protect the meek like umbrellas shielding us
from the acid showers of colonialism or overcoats
shielding us from the frozen winds of prejudice.
Three bucking broncos, railing against
pale cowboys who lurk in the dark of the night
armed with the silver bullets of white supremacy.
Three lambs of justice who boldly walked into
the snake pit of the South and the lion's den of America
to snatch their freedom from Ross "Nebuchadnezzar" Barnett,
Pharaoh Bilbo, and his side-winding, salamandering scribes,
the Jackson Daily News.
The insurance salesman, the sharecropper,
and the teacher bore the cross of change.
They were the fertile soil in which we planted our seeds of hope,
as they petitioned us to invest the collateral of our talents
into the mutual fund of the movement.
That's why we must be tired of paper-tiger intellectuals
and playboy revolutionaries who care more about their
Cadillac payments than tilling the soil of ebony education
as they are standing on the backs and trampling the fruits
of Medgar, Fannie Lou, and Ms. Annie Devine.
These three midwifed and nurtured the germination
of the movement, which caused a rippling of
flowers and trees sprouting through
the winter of racism into the spring of transformation.
Like Shaka they were the pounding
tom-tom heart of a militant movement,
like Jesus they came to heal the sick, and like Mohammed
they laid the blueprint for their people.
Still everyday people fighting for everyday concerns.
Speaking volumes with their actions, this trinity shook
the fibers of the universe.
Through intellectual guerrilla warfare with the spirit of
Jomo Kenyatta, they showed that leaders can't teach people
to stand as tall as mighty magnolia trees if they are
weeping willows bowing on their knees to the winds of wrongdoers;
they embraced the sword of justice and the fires of protest
becoming ministers for justice and preachers of the gospel of freedom,
teaching us to be the engine of organizations
rather than be driven or plowed over by them.
With little possessions, they fought for the dispossessed,
each one crying 900,000 jubilee tears for 900,000 of Wright and Walker's citizens
at the mercy of cowardly chicken teachers and chicken eating preachers,
all the while refusing to fight the forest fire of evil with evil,
believing love to be the only antidote for hate—
for when held to the light of Truth courage
is the mirrored reflection of love, and no greater love than a man
who would lay down his chivalric cashmere coat of life for another
so that we may walk unblemished over the cesspool of struggle—
his payment to be beaten, kicked, sprayed, spit on, spied on, lied on, bombed, and tuned out by
his own for a few crumbs of token positions and jus' enough money to move cross the tracks into
the homes that pale people abandoned to preserve the marmalade of Mississippi tradition.
In the blood-stained name of emancipation, equality, and liberty
the thick sweet potato aroma of their lingering legacy demands
that we heed the call to explode this corrupt cocoon
into a Capital city of concrete citizens.

So, [i] don't know if [i]'m going to heaven or hell,
but wherever [i]'m going, [i]'m going for Mississippi.
[i]'m going for Mississippi.



"I asked you for your churches, and you turned me down,
But I'll do my work if I have to do it on the ground.
You will not speak for fear of being heard,
So you crawl in your shell and say, 'Do not disturb.'
Joyce Brown—sixteen year old McComb Freedom School student

  Oh, I wish I wasn't in this land of killing
  old time crimes are not forgotten.
  Go away, go away, go away Dixie-Land

  Oh, I wish I had my freedom, today, today.
  In this hellish land I'll take my stand
  to vote my way to freedom.

  Oh, I wish I wasn't in this land of killing
  old time crimes are still revealing.
  Go away, go away, take yo' ass on Dixie-Land

Mississippi was a septic tank sweltering with the stank of strange fruit that
had been able to mask its immorality with the wardrobe of misinformation
and an auxiliary of lynch ropes that choked its citizens into silent submission,
but the time had come to strip the state naked to the world
and let everyone see its STD of segregation, terror, and death.
From inside the beast's belly freedom farmers had been plowing,
trying to raise flowers of justice from a soil soaked with sin.
So reinforcements were needed to fly in like crop dusters
and cascade a shower of light on the backside of southern debauchery.
They were storm chasers riding into the thick of the tornado testing
Trailways to ensure that the highway of freedom could be travelled by all
but violence was as common as peach cobbler and Sunday morning church services.
The southern air was thick with evil; the humidity of hatred could choke an anaconda
as it tried continuously to choke the dreams of equality from black bodies.
Yet, the ever present shadow of fear had to be faced and suffocated
with a love big enough to cover all the adams and all the eves
who were willing to climb Jacob's ladder and wrestle with wrongdoers
to reclaim liberty from the vice grips of the wicked.

A radical equation had to be calculated
to show that education + voting = citizenship.
Thus, only through voter registration could people assigned
as fractions be finally counted as whole neighbors,
allowing Ellison's Invisible People to properly slice the
apple pie and carve this dictatorship into democracy.
These pie cutters were an amalgamated artillery aimed at the heart of Jim Crow:
 Students Coordinating their own liberation Curriculum,
  a Congress founded On Rainbow Equality
   a Niagara waterfall flooding the streets with liberty
    and Christian feet-washers Leading Southern soldiers—
Four mighty rivers that merged into a COFO ocean
as they went about the work of separating the goats from the sheep,
making sure to prune and pluck any weed with a John Brown complex
so as not to strangle the summer with spoiled seeds that could not
produce a movement of Mississippi Magnolias reaching to sky,
developing Freedom Day that treated voting like Christmas,
allowing black people to give themselves the gift of citizenship.

Yet, Pharaohs and Pharisees rarely relinquish their kingdoms
as Krazy Knight Riders in ghostly getup returned with a vengeance;
one night in May crosses shined like the Las Vegas strip in sixty-four counties
illuminating their four-phase project to exterminate chocolate citizens as
they berated, blackmailed, beat, and bombed black churches and bi-racial buses,
hot flames howling like hungry wolves trying to ravish the vessels of freedom
as the sons and daughters of southern secession served as gatekeepers
holding the doors shut, turning a bus into an oversized oven.
Mississippi had mass murderers masquerading as mayors,
legislators who moonlighted as lynchers, and citizen councils
who provided cloak and dagger cover for bedspread wearing predators.
Even Miss Mississippi discovered that Polar Bears will eat
their own children to feed their bloodlust for supremacy.
1964 flowed with more red than the Redeemers rallying against Reconstruction
as the mountainous murders of Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner
represented just a pebble on what was the beach of bodies
buried underneath the lie of southern hospitality,
which was nothing more than the hospitalization of justice.
Democracy was on life-support, and there was a DNR sign hung on the bed
as police cars patrolled like patter-rollers from Picayune to Parchman
lead pipes and lethal legislation created knots and scars on the soul of the south.
Law enforcement was not MIA; it was a beehive of KKK.

Still, a tidal wave of freedom foot soldiers pounded the pavement—
political Picassos painting a better picture for future dreamers,
occupying white only seats with big ole black determination.
There was a blackout to keep green dollars from fertilizing white suppression.
Jail without bail to break the frozen hell of the segregated south—
Free yo' mind and your fears will follow.
There was even a "White Folks Project" 'cause they
were drowin' in the sea of sewage that they made.
Students of the liberation gospel looking for souls to save
going door to door like Jehovah's Witnesses
knocking down the wall of oppression one brick at a time.
Even as they saw far too many people plucked from the field of life
they continued to walk with the weight of fallen friends on their backs
learning how not to be buried in the avalanche of anger but how to churn grief
and rage into the necessary fuel to plow Mississippi into a garden of goodness.
How do you keep your eye on the prize when
someone is constantly trying to cut off your head?
You become a soaring summer bird with two muscular wings,
a Bible in one hand and a shotgun in the other.
If they don't like the song that we're singing,
hit 'em over the head with this groove from Harmony, Mississippi,
and I know they'll get on the good foot.

But, before they could trample Thompson's Tank together
these silver-spoon children and pot-liquor plantation workers had to forge
a liberation language that could bulldoze the barriers between them,
fighting like red-headed step children behind closed doors
but continuing to punch Mississippi in the mouth with their united fist;
they learned the healing power of hugging each other
rather than hanging each other with hate,
knowing their mustard-seed faith could change this Mississippi mountain.
From the many mothers' sons slaughtered to keep the steamboat of cheap labor rolling
to the Montgomery County Mother who raised Ruleville revolution,
from Sunflower to Smith County the blood of the righteous
was bold enough to build bodies to break the back of Jim Crow.
Hundreds of homemade heroes turned their houses
into cocoons, sheltering beautiful butterflies and worker bees
before being firebombed for being believers in the salvation of civil rights.
They were a cast-iron conglomerate of college kids and social scholars,
common sense and street smarts, well-endowed degrees and McComb mother wit;
they had lawyers who litigated the racism, ministers who prayed for the racism,
and doctors who provided just the right type of drugs to endure the racism.

And after centuries of being held captive in cancerous curriculums
the children of Kemet needed a Head-Start so
freedom schools erupted to end sharecropper education where
blacks were no longer force-fed the outhouse objectives of others.
Teachers became construction workers using
education as a jackhammer to unbind black brains
from the concrete courses of colonialism,
fostering fresh knowledge to flush the filth of self-hatred
from black minds and provide fertile pedagogy to impregnate
black communities with a Tsunami of self-determinism.
Rather than being a pencil pushing plantation overseer whipping students into slaves,
a freedom school teacher was a farmer who believed in the sweetness of the fruit
and was willing to reach elbow deep into the black soil to cultivate crops
because true education teaches eagles how to fly
and a critical thinker knows how to catch, clean, fry, and sell his own catfish
while community centers became calabash enclaves of
arts and crafts that were used to weave fragmented lives into webs of activism.
The summer project was a mighty machine molding laypeople into leaders,
making Mississippians masters and missionaries of their movement.
It was the must-needed yeast allowing the bread of black Mississippi
to rise to its highest peak no longer confining themselves to the South's toilet bowel.
And from this regenerated soil saturated in sacrifice sprouted
the fearless and forceful forest of the Freedom Democratic Party,
proving that a few trees standing tall before the Devils of Dixie
can raise a harvest full of well-trained warriors that can burst
a Ross Barnett Dam so that we can all finally be baptized in freedom.



"yeah jesus went/ down to the old/ rugged cross-/ road to dance
between/ two worlds/ his holy body breaking/ to the beat of a music/
loud enough to shake awake/ the black saints of old"
"Breaking between Two Worlds (Jesus at the Crossroads)"
from Cinders Rekindled
by Charlie Braxton

A purple and gold brave
always pounding the medicine drum
to deliver healing justice to sick magnolias—
Medgar sold the policy of voter registration
to insure healthy citizenship
for in the year that Emmett was drowned
Medgar was baptized in the waters
of Civil Rights warfare becoming an
intellectual warrior in Mau Mau Fashion.
He was a revolutionary farmer
plowing the fields, removing the weeds of injustice
and harvesting crops of freedom fruit from
which some were scared to take communion.
Yet, Medgar was unafraid to be hugged by people
with callous-coated hands and clean hearts
while he was crucified by those
with muddy hearts and bleached hands,
allowing his body to become a fortified viaduct
connecting the warring alphabets of
into a vocabulary of liberation letters
determined to spell democracy.
Often hated by a hierarchy
that played hopscotch for Hoover,
he seldom tapped in time to
Roy Wilkins' self-hating square-dance.
Pulled like Play-Doh in polarizing directions,
Medgar was the caulk that filled
the cracks in the movement.
For, he was sculpted from the
same clay as Jeremiah and Daniel,
and three years before the waterfall flowing
of Yankee bus riders he became a prophet
on a Meridian bus making the soil
fertile for Freedom Riders to flower.
With the fire of the Old Testament prophets
and tears raining like revolution,
Medgar became the pied piper of truth
and a trumpet sounding the stories
of Clyde Kennard and Mack Parker—
his words cutting the strings from the backs
the Negro leaders who were puppets
to the Sovereignty Commission
often frozen in their fear because
lynching was more popular than baseball
and Mississippi loved to "past time"
with double-lynchings that had more fans than double-hitters
and more season ticket holders than the Oxford Rebels
often selling postcards of perverted picnics
populated by flesh-eating villagers.
Yet, Medgar churned the fire of his rage
into a locomotive for equality,
becoming a people's poet—
his words were the flame
of justice smoldering in their souls.
And like Yeshua levitating Lazarus,
he barnstormed and two-stepped with the Ladner duo
to create a tidal wave of support for the Tougaloo Nine.
This trifecta of truth-telling became a tornado
stirring up the Jackson State seeds,
transforming them from dead bones to living spirits
willing to haunt Jackson for justice proving that
courage is the yeast that a people need to rise
and that Medgar was the best chef for the job.
Constantly breakdancing on the battlefield
to the beat of "We Shall not Be Moved,"
Medgar was the glue of the crossroads
becoming a carpenter who could take
three nails and leftover wood
and build a holy house to hold
"all the adams and all the eves"
in one big transforming tent of humanity:
the cafi campers and the congregation wailers,
the North End survivors
and the Shady Oaks Highsiders,
the gun-toting Lynch Streeters
and the pulpit-pimping preachers,
the hell raisers and Bible bathers
the fractured fraternal orders
and the blessed praying peacemakers
the tyrannical turncoat teachers
and sharpened Azande students
the easy-greasy pinstriped city slickers
and the overall wearing cotton pickers
the greenback chasers and the overly zealous baby makers.
Medgar made sure that the doors of the church to freedom
were open to all and that any soul that had need
could answer the phone of the liberation altar call.
So, now's the time to build a tabernacle
to testify to the truth of "how we got over"
that will turn this decaying corpse of a city
into a timberland of triumphant trees.
And no longer will the shadow of spineless
Eunuchs unable to give birth to our exodus
keep us entombed in Mr. Charlie's cave with a
college-certified handkerchief-head guarding the door.

So, I'm finally shaking off the fur coat of fear
and the concrete shoes of selfishness
to walk across the bridge to liberty
built by a man of steel and
maintained by our own wonder woman.

[ *purple and gold brave: Evers graduated from Alcorn State University where he was a three-sport athlete and met his future wife.
*ladner duo: Dorie and Joyce Ladner were major Civil Rights Activists in Mississippi.
*"all the adams and all the aves": From Margaret Walker's "For My People"]


from Da Black Book of Linguistic Liberation

Confession might be good for the soul,
but it ain't good enough for a conviction,
particularly for a Greenville judge
adjudicating Pale justice on Black souls
that toil in a perpetuating purgatory
waiting on a Moses to set them free.
The scrupulous stench in the form of unsolved crimes
lingers like the smell of heated, rotten fish
because we'd rather wish them away
than undress and wash our nasty annals of Time.
A Greenwood newspaperman speaks of
a white defendant's right for a speedy trial
while selectively forgetting the right of reciprocity,
especially when that justice was delayed by an equity system,
which is a double tongued whore with both eyes uncovered,
choking on the cock of Caucasian control
as she gave the middle-finger treatment
to the children of Turner.

The Bleached Supremacy Delegation
zestfully funds Bibles and Lynch ropes with tax dollars—
a time of Christians crucifying prophets
in the name of Jesus and the Mississippi Way.
Now white businessmen worry about the dignity
of the matter as dignity becomes a synonym for
Antebellum commerce.
And Sam Bowers ranks with Hegel as a prophetic,
philosopher since we know more about Watergate
than about either of the Philadelphia cities.
We never notice that felony convictions and life sentences
have replaced lynchings and castrations.
No one notices how beat cop college kid killers
became the Chief of the Law and a Hinds County Magistrate
while Mrs. Rainey was questioned
about her decaying husband's neighbors
as Knight Riders went back to their day jobs
under the cover of sunlight for thirty sanitized years
until there is a surfacing of conscience—
or does shit eventually float to the top of the pool,
or does a silent fart eventually causes us
to question whose dirty deed is it.

It's libation time as Ghosts linger on the
back yard stoops of our distortedly decorated memories,
as crimson footsteps pave a walkway
to the front door of the Governor's mansion
while silent voices speak in the tongues
of those desperate to tell their own stories.
It's the Roll Call of the unrequited:
A Slave Preacher 12/11/1831
A Mississippi Reverend 5/7/1955
A WW2 Lieutenant 8/13/1955
A Fourteen Year Old Child 8/28/1955
A Brother 8/25/1959
A Farmer 9/25/1961
A Journalist 9/30/1962
A Secretarial Activist 6/12/1963
Four Junior Misses 9/15/1963
A Witness 1/31/1964
Two Brothers Walking Home 5/2/1964
Three Bus Riders in Philadelphia, Mississippi 6/21/1964
A Louisiana Peace Officer 6/2/1965
A Hattiesburg Grocer 1/10/1966
A Sixty-five Year Old Care Taker 6/10/1966
A Natchez Factory Worker 2/27/1967
A Man Walking across Jackson State University
 to Get His Wife a Sandwich 5/12/1967
A Georgia Preacher 4/4/1968
A Black Panther 12/4/1969
A Decorated Vietnam Veteran 1970
A Twentieth Century Escaped Slave 5/2/1973
A Pennsylvania Radio Journalist 12/9/1981

All poems copyright © C. Liegh McInnis, all rights reserved.

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