Poems by Eve Merriam (1916-1992)

Poems originally published in Montgomery Alabama, Money, Mississippi, and Other Places, Copyright © Eve Merriam, 1956, all rights reserverd.

Poems About Race & Jim Crow
     Yesterday's Rider
     Jim Crow
     The Liberal Candidate From Middleroad Speaks:
     White Sister
     Money Mississippi (Emmett Till)
     Tuscaloosa Road (Autherine Lucy)
Poems About the Montgomery Bus Boycott
     Bus Boycott
     Montgomery Alabama
     Tomorrow's Footsteps
     Sunrise Morning
     The Elderly Walking Woman

Poems About Race & Jim Crow


Oh see the white statue set up in the square!
Is it Eastland or Jefferson Davis there?

Up on his high horse, pawing the air,
Riding, riding around in the square.

Rider, mad rider, with foam at his mouth,
Head rearing backward, far backward South  — 

Strained are his reins, tightened his grip,
Frightened of falling and ready to slip — 

Bellowing, snorting, around in the square,
Galloping, galloping — getting nowhere.



("Few have any idea of the relative recency of the Jim Crow laws ..." from The Strange Career of Jim Crow by C. Vann Woodward, Professor of History, Johns Hopkins University.)

Now you and I have always heard
That Jim Crow's such a tough old bird,
Flapped around forever and a day,
Still he around on Judgment Day
Never going to chase that bird away!

Now that's the story we've always heard:
Jim Crow old as old can he,
Oldest bird in our history ...
Born before the Civil War,
Way way hack, long before
Old Jim Crow's been strictly legal
Longer than the American eagle.
Such a long-time flying bird!

Long-time lying story heard.
Don't believe it, not a single word.
Turn to the truth of history.
Learn for yourself from history.
Jim Crow never came alive until 1895.
Never had segregation before;
No time before the Civil War.
Not even in the Civil War.

Then Reconstruction come along — 
You bet Jim Crow didn't come along!

When Reconstruction got done wrong
Still Jim Crow didn't come along!

Not till much much later on:
That's when Jim Crow first came on.

Old Jim Crow's hold not so old.
Not so long. Not so strong.
Not such a much of a tough old bird ...
Not such a long — time flying time
As History goes, as Jim Crow flies ...
Time enough. So long! Shoofly!



Oh, segregation has got to go!
I mean it's really got to go!
Got to get rid of those mean old ways,
Got to get out of that rotten old rut!
Yup, you can say it again, bub!
Segregation has got to go!
But — got to go slow.

Now don't get me wrong.
That Supreme Court decree is ab-so-loot-lee right.
Segregation has got to go! Giddyup!
Only, whoa ...
Not overnight.
After all, what's gone on for a million days,
Well, you just can't undo it overnight!

Wouldn't make cents!

Now I'm not saying you can't change human nature — 
Got to change that inhuman nature  — 
That Dixiecratic, undemocratic way-behind-of-a-mind:
But it takes time!

Some of these days ...

We'll get around to changing all those hoky-poky-ways,
But slow down — we're none of us young as we used to be — 

Nosiree, not even me!
And the old folks can't run along so fast ...
Old folkways can't be done away so fast.

You take desegregation now:
Well, you and I can take it, friends,
But some folks can't.
Can't we all be Confederates and friends?
Let's take it easy for everybody's sake.
For old Jeff Davis' polltax sake.

Oh, segregation has got to go all right,
But states' rights, man, let's face it — 
You can't force it!

Can't jump aboard that Freedom Train,
Somebody bound to fall and break their neck — 
Could even have one helluva wreck — 
Far better off if all of us wait
For a long long long long long slow freight.



Oh, when will she know
That even though
Her sins are white,
The master double-deals her left and right?
Same master deals us black and white ...

Take up your hand  — what do I find?
A pair, sister — we're two of a kind.

White sister, white sister, why can't you see
Into yourself when you look at me?
(You stare through me as though I'm a wall,
But you need me to catch you when you fall.)

White sister, white sister, blind as you pass,
Take a look at me in your looking glass!
Back stair, front stair, oh look either where,
Neither has yet our full womanly share;
I've been taken downstairs, but you've been taken, too.
Face up to your mirror: you know that it's true.

I've been kicked down to the ground — mud smeared in my face.
You've been shut away upstairs — set on a wobbly base,
How quickly you can fall from a pedestal base.
Feet firm upon the ground makes a lot safer place.

Don't spend all your mind on making up your face,
Pick yourself up clear and wipe off your tear-smeared face;
Set yourself straight and take your proper place.
White sister. White sister, still blindly you pass,
Gazing alone in your looking glass ...

White sister, white sister, you'll never see
Through to yourself while you look through me.

White sister, white sister, why can't you see
You're seeing yourself when you look at me?
On all woman's flesh is the master's mark,
And the heel doesn't care if it's light or dark.
White sister, white sister, why can't you see
Into yourself when you look at me?

White sister, white sister,
You'll never he free

Until you take
A good look at me.

Poem About Emmett Till

[See Emmett Till Lynched for background information.]


(News Item: Yesterday, in Money, Mississippi, the mutilated body of a 14-year-old Negro boy from Chicago was found in the river)

From Chicago to Mississippi
Young Emmett Till went down,
Down to visit some kinfolk
In a Mississippi town.

     Now the name of that town is Money,
     The name of that town is Money,
     Name of that town is Money,
     Dirty Money town.

Emmett Till never came back
From that Mississippi town.
Two white men murdered Emmett Till
In that Mississippi town.

     And the name of that town is Money,
     The name of that town is Money,
     Name of that town is Money,
     Bloody Money town.

Two white men shot him down
In that Mississippi town,
Threw him into the river
And left him there to drown.

     Oh, the name of that town is Money,
     The name of that town is Money,
     Name of that town is Money,
     Rotten Money town.

Drag the river for Emmett Till
In that Mississippi town;
Drag the river for Justice,
Justice floating face down.

     For the name of that town is Money,
     The name of that town is Money,
     Name of that town is Money,
     Filthy Money town.

Where that young boy went to his death,
The murderers went free;
Where they let that young boy die,
They let the killers go free.

     Where the name of that town is Money,
     The name of that town is Money,
     Name of that town is Money,
     Evil Money town.

Raise up the body of Emmett Till
From that muddy river town;
Raise up the body of Justice
In that bloody Money town.

Bring home the body of Emmett Till
From that terrible Money town.
Bring home the body of Justice
With her blood-stained shining crown.


Poem About Authorine Lucy

[See Autherine Lucy at the Univ. Alabama for background & more information.]


Bright shone the sun as a wedding day,
Autherine Lucy was on her way.
The clay was fair, the sun bright shone,
Autherine Lucy was all alone.

Autherine Lucy was all alone:
Men like toads crept from under a stone,
Saw Autherine Lucy alone on her way;
Like rats clawing garbage from yesterday,
Reared back on their hind legs and threw the first stone:
"Get Autherine Lucy — she's all alone!"

     No stone thrown however high
     Can touch the sun up in the sky.

     So tall rises freedom fully grown,
     High as the sun in the sky ever shone.
     So far shines freedom more and more known,
     So fair rises freedom on her human throne,
     Crowned by the world, no more alone.

A rain of curses stained the clay: "Autherine Lucy — get away!"
A hail of hatred stoned the day:
          "It's Autherine Lucy — bar the way!"

     No lie flung however wide
     Can force the truth to step aside.

     So freedom walks with a forward stride,
     So Autherine Lucy, freedom's bride
     On your wedding day, the world by your side,
     Hands outclassed to greet the bride
     Across the wide world, embracing pride.


Poems About the Montgomery Bus Boycott

[See Montgomery Bus Boycott for background information.]


Oh, the wheels used to turn at a slow and even pace
In Montgomery, Alabama, where good Negroes knew their place.

The wheels all kept rolling at a slow and steady pace
In Montgomery, Alabama, where good Negroes kept their place.

Till the first of December  — that goes back quite a pace
When a good Negro woman took and kept her place.

     "First come first served is only fair
     I want no more and no less than my share."

Don't you know your place is? Step back to the rear!

"I know my place at last and I'm keeping it right here."

She stopped the old wheels cold in their worn — out pace,
That good Negro woman who knew and took her place.

January, February, Spring comes on apace
Since that good Negro woman took and kept her place&mdash

And more and more move into place,
More and more get to know their place,
More and more holding firm to their place:
Right up front in the human race.



Where is tomorrow born? How does the future start
On a winter working day. In a Negro woman's heart.

Mrs. Rosa Parks got on board a bus,
And all of a sudden started raising up a fuss ...

     You know how sudden sister
               you know how sudden brother
     Like all the floors that were ever scrubbed
     On hands and knees bending over the tub
     Like all the wash ever hung out to dry
     Reaching up to the same dark sky

     You know how sudden white sister?
     You know how sudden white brother?
     Back go back to my father and mother
     Go far go back to my great — grandmother
     Go deep go back to the very first slave
     That's how sudden it all began
     With the first woman torn from her child and man

Now Mrs. Rosa Parks gets on board a bus,
And all of a sudden starts raising up a fuss ...
"First come first served is only fair — 
Where there's a place to sit, I'm entitled to ride,
And the Supreme Court is standing up right by my side.
Why should I move back when a white man gets on board?
We're all of us the same in the light of law and Lord."

On a chill December day, see the glowing sparks,
Plain — talking splendor from Mrs. Rosa Parks.
She sews for a living, there's not much pay,
Sewing's tiresome, you get stooped and gray,
Maybe she's got a headache, that's why she acts this way — 

Mrs. Rosa Parks on hoard the bus
     all of a sudden raising up a fuss
"I paid my fare that's due to this bus,
I want what's fair and due to us,
What's fair and overdue to us:
Fair and equal I declare,
Once you get a place — keep it there.
Courtesy for everyone who steps in,
Count the color of money, not the color of skin.
This bus line's been kept going mostly by our race
How about our own kind in some driver's place?"
     But how can you change custom
     and the way-it's-always-been?
     White drivers go clear back to original sin.
     Now step down, Rosa Parks. Move back to the rear.
Mrs. Parks faces front. Justice Day is here!

She speaks her heart and mind; gets fourteen dollars fined.
Seamstress for a living, that's many days' pay,
But everyday Justice is here to stay:
She won't move back to yesterday!

Now Mrs. Rosa Parks rises up in the bus — 
     Thank heavens, she's not raising any more fuss ...
Mrs. Rosa Parks rises up in the bus,
And speaks out tall for all of us.
"If I can't ride in a fair and equal seat,
I'll walk with the Lord and the true law of the land."
So she rises and takes her stand.
"I'll walk with the Lord and the true law of the land."
She rises and marches to take her stand.

The next day no Negro gets on board a bus.
How is it done without any fuss?
How does the word of boycott get around?
How do you hear the free and equal sound?
     Long ago, another day,
     Conductor Harriet Tubman on her way:
     Not a track, not a marker was ever found
     When her railway to freedom ran underground.

Now what is the sound the future makes?
Not a threat. Not a shout.
But not a bus rolls out.

Listen. The earth shakes. But it's quiet.
You can hear a pin drop, a cash register ring,
But the bus lines don't ring up a single thing.

What is the sound the future makes?
Not a shout. Not a sound.
Just — not a wheel spins around.

What is the road the future takes?
Footsteps ringing clear like a song,
Winter patriots marching along,
Ten, twenty, thirty, forty — fifty thousand strong!

Old wheels ground down in their worn — out way,
New sound rising up for Justice Day!
     Jim Crow on the buses. Don't get aboard.
     Walk, walk, walk with the Lord.

In Montgomery, Alabama, the line is drawn.
In Montgomery, Alabama, darkness into dawn.



Walking, walking, keep walking along,
Walking, walking, been walking so long

     Footsteps forced back on the sorrow road
     Chains dragging the dust a heavy load
     Bloody marks on tomorrow's road

Walking, walking, keep walking along ...

     Master caught a runaway
     Tomorrow my son rise another day
     Rise up my brothers free today

How do they hold the line so long?
How do they hold the line so strong?

With Denmark Vesey the line is long.
With Harriet Tubman walking along.
With John Brown's body marching along.
With Frederick Douglass the line holds strong.

Footsteps joining from everywhere,
Heading for Justice and getting there!



(News Item: Over 100 Negroes, including 24 ministers, have been arrested on charges of "forming a conspiracy to interfere with the Montgomery Bus Line's legitimate and lawful pursuit of business." E.D. Nixon, a Pullman porter and a leader of the boycott commented: "First they arrest us for riding the bus. Now they want to arrest us for not riding!")

What web can be spun
To contain the rising sun?

Call the sunrise subversive. A conspiracy.
Serve dawn with a subpoena.

     Oh, glory morning, the sun rose high,
     Refused to set down in the same old sky!

     Glory morning, how it got bright,
     Glory morning, what a light!

     Bright as noon, that shining dawn:
     Justice morning coming on!

          Walk, walk, through the dark night,
          Walk, walk, daylight in sight,
          Walk with the power-and-the-glory-light ...

          The power and the glory come  — 
          Oh, come along together!

          The power and the glory come
          Together in our strong grasp.

          Here, out of the long dark night,
          Handshake; daybreak;
          The power and the glory bright:
          Sunlight in our hands.



(News Item: "I'm not tired," she said. "When I used to ride those buses, my feet rode but my spirit would walk. Now my feet walk, but my spirit rides.")

Oh, ain't gonna ride no more, no more,
Ain't gonna ride no more;
Feet are weary, feet are sore,
But ain't gonna ride no more!

Got Jim Crow on the run, on the run,
Got Jim Crow on the run;
Feet are swollen, feelin numb,
But Jim Crow's on the run!

Old Jim Crow ridin out in a hearse,
Jim Crow in a hearse;
Feet are achin but it could be worse,
Got Jim Crow in a hearse!

Keep walkin to the Promised Land,
Where's that Promised Land?
Promised Land's right where we stand,
Here in our own land!

     So take a hand and make a stand,
     Walk along everyone!

Jim Crow on the buses. Don't get aboard.
Walk, walk, walk with the Lord.

Keep walking!



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