Mississippi Street Song in Hinds County
A Song for Charlie
1961 Jackson Safe House
MISSISSIPPI STREET SONG IN HINDS COUNTY
[Dedicated to N.A.G. which was a vital link in the civil rights struggle.]
Hear the whistle of little Joe Abel Smith, whose dad makes
Fifteen dollars a week.
Watch Joe go hysterical at a penny tossed.
The mist of hell, protest ring out, beating fist, blood gush gush,
screams, and a rope hangs from a dark tree tall.
How black the noon sun can be, oh how black and miserable it is.
The windows looking onto our suffering are unwashed, you
cannot see clearly, but listen to the bleak heart-breaking sob
melody, hear the blast of hopes gone nowhere.
Little boy Joe Abel Smith lies smashed of hope hurt on some
leaves in the brown dirt, looking at the dangling rope, dreamless,
Clutching the penny tossed as folks look down at him with futile
dreams coming alive in their eyes, their dark faces silent and
representative of Mississippi streets in anguish.
I am in a cell with Rip Patton.
Stokely is to our left, John Lewis to our right.
We talk our words, sing our songs, and we dream
Of fighting for freedom all day long into the night.
We carry on, as Parchman Pen. creaks, groans, cries, moans, and we feel it in our bones.
The naked black hearted hate made steel bunks and bars our cells of fate.
A SONG FOR CHARLIE
A different sort of soldier we freedom
fighters, with songs of love no less.
A kind of hope for nourishment, no one will be
starved. One brother will
leave the cell block today; a Song.
"For he is a jolly good fellow."
Can Charlie understand?
No, but if he wonders why — there —
another sign of spring.
[Mr. Charlie is the bad Mr. Charlie who almost had me shot in the head in Mississippi, and on the train to Nashville when I left Parchman.]
1961 JACKSON SAFE HOUSE
I was taken to a safe house,
Safe sleep, safe meal, safe shower,
Not knowing what was waiting outside
Like a club to the head, shotgun blast,
Jail, torture, or worse for us riders, not hiders,
Entering the fray not for pay, but for freedom
In the end.
Safe house, fried chicken dinner, yum yum,
Safe dream, real kindness from the host,
Swelling pride in my New York Black Boy breast
From the protective safe house farewell grasp,
I gave my thanks, "you are welcome," in reply,
"Our safe house prays you will be safe
From the storm outside."
[Some Freedom Riders were put up in safe houses prior to being arrested in Jackson, Mississippi.]
All poems copyright © Jan Leighton Triggs, all rights reserverd.
[Jan Leighton Triggs was a Howard University Student in the early 1960s. He wrote for the Howard University Hilltop newspaper, served as the president of the Student Peace Union, was the first Historian of the Nonviolent Action Group, and was a founding member of Project Awareness on the Howard University campus. He was arrested on June 8, 1961 in Jackson, Mississippi during one of the first Freedom Rides, sentenced to Parchman Prison with other Freedom Riders, and participated in many social demonstrations. Along with Norman Thomas, in 1961 he addressed 25,000 demonstrators at the Washington Monument and spoke about peace and the civil rights struggle.]