Lynching in the United States

Thursday, May 12, 2016


Trudging up the rutted road
        eyes cast down
                    I found a stone
marked like a heiroglyph
        purple-red wings outspread
                like a sign at birth
you don't expect
        perfect heart-shaped shard
                as every broken heart
is nothing but itself
                more wholly shown
summit view a moonscape
        in my bones the weight
                of dynamited
mountaintops sunk deep
        I crossed then flared my arms
                the spirit yell I conjured
echoed back
        from every blasted crack
                singing to heal
the murderous white
        drone that numbs
                and poisons the air
I felt you there
        so many there
                in the devastated ground
original light-filled holy
        shattered to the core
                the missing
who dance in us
        fierce grace
                those who have formed
mounds for corn
        canoed the rivers
                laid the tracks
dug the ditches
        stitched the wounds
                stifled moans
spread the word
        harvested the crops
                rocked and taught the young
fled the chains
        unshackled the enslaved
                evolved the unions
I feel you now
        in the wind of our unfolding
                redemption's songs
here at the perfect
        broken rock we circle and weep
                circle and sing
and feel the rock the whole
        world holds as we hold
                each other true
the rock we name
        split open
                wild and blessed
sparks released
        that we sink together
                deeper into our knees
and breathe
        and move the rock
                lifting lifted
as we are moved
                to rise

Copyright © 2016 by Janet E. Aalfs
Poet laureate emeritus, Northampton, MA
Lotus Peace Arts at Valley Women's Martial Arts #413-320-3248

A few of the countless poetic voices that inspire and embolden me:
...but when we are silent we are still afraid.

So it is better to speak remembering
we were never meant to survive.

Audre Lorde

What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open.
Muriel Rukeyser

Don’t you hear this hammer ring? I’m gonna split this rock
And split it wide!
When I split this rock,

Stand by my side.
Langston Hughes

For any spark to make a song it must be transformed
by pressure. There must be unspeakable need, muscle of 
belief, and wild, unknowable elements. I am singing a 
song that can only be born after losing a country.
Joy Harjo 

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Our Unnamed Warriors

How many had to be lost
How many at what cost
What's The cost of a better life
For my children and my wife

How much blood had to be shed
How many fathers pronounced dead
Before the world would see
The horror that surrounded you and me

They blamed our warriors for a great sin
Because they could not control the color of their skin
Our soldiers were burned their faces charred 
And our women were forever getting scared

Hanging like ornaments from a tree
They were a reminder for all to see 

The unnamed warriors who fell at an alarming rate
Had unveiled society's wrath of injustice and hate
These acts that caused flames to grow
In our hearts the fire was ever-expanding its glow

These warriors who mothers and fathers saw them fall
Are a constant reminder to us all
Of how far we have come and how far we have to go
I only wish I could tell them so they would know

Know that they are missed and that we still care
That they were apart of the battles that we all share
The battle for justice and peace of mind
And for happiness in a world that can be so unkind
Even if we move two steps forward and one step back
Their memories keep us on the right track

By Destenie Nock January 31, 2016

Monday, November 23, 2015

Black Wall Street

I’d come to Little Africa with Quincy for a better way of life.  He’d heard black folk there had established their own community free of white folk.  They had their own homes, banks, law offices, hotels, restaurants, grocery stores, schools, a hospital and transportation.  We’d been there some four years before the burning of our beloved community on June 1, 1921.

I remembers the day well, Quincy had gotten up early for work, he’d let me sleep in for the mere fact that I was with child and close to birthing.  It was somewhere around noon when I got the first birth pain.  It was my first baby.  Lucky for us we lived three doors down from one of the midwives that had delivered a good number of the babies born in our community between 1918 and 1921, she says the count was 57 live births that she can remember and my little angel was to be the 58th.  Miss Ella had sent her eldest boy, James Earl into town to fetch Quincy. 

The pain was something terrible.  I tried holding on so Quincy could be present for the birth of his first born.  But the sun was soon about to set and neither Quincy nor James Earl had returned.  It was just around that time; we heard what sound like planes flying over us and Miss Ella told me it’s time to push.  I cried out wanting to hold on just a little while longer for Quincy.  But, Ella demanded I push.  I let out my final push when Miss Ella announced it was a girl.  Just as she cut the cord, a group of white folk bust in the door shooting Ella right in the back of her head. While her lifeless body lay on top of me, I heard a white woman say no more niggers!  She ordered a young hoodlum no older than 14 years old to lynch that nigger baby with her own cord.  I cried out for Keziah – that’s what I would’ve named her after her great grandmother born a slave but died free. 

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Angel: The Hanging tree

They were together every since he learned how to walk. The sturdy poplar tree he declared was his tree and he named her “Angel”. He would climb to the top of her large outstretched branches as a pirate looking for land and buried treasures, he used her green leaves as money bankroll his travels, and swing from limb to limb, hallowing and pretending to be Tarzan. He could be heard playing throughout the neighborhood.  This was the place he went to when he was sad after a spanking.  It was under this tree where he stole his first kiss, lost his virginity and carved a heart into Angel’s tree trunk.  It was the place where he demanded to take all of his graduation pictures and it was the last stop before he took the bus to college.  

The tree branches had been the place where he had experienced such a beautiful life now it would be the place where life would end. For the klans declared  “we are tired of these so called educated niggas coming back here stirring up people with talk about civil rights. They gonna git their rights but it won’t be to civil.” 

As this young Black man stood for the last time next to his beloved tree, they would have no options and no say.  Power has never belonged to an old tree and a young Black man. They knew without a doubt that being strong had sealed their fate. For his strength was seen as a threat and hers as a means to eliminate that threat. As the rope was placed around one of her large branches and then the noose around his neck, a stillness seemed to surround them and rain came out of nowhere in the middle of a beautiful sunny day. It was as if the universe was taking a pause and was crying because the power of their unwavering love would be forever stained by the unyielding power of hate and the slaughter of another Black man.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Black Health Matters

In between songs by Mahalia Jackson and Curt Franklin, the community of Springfield, Massachusetts can hear the words from me, Dr. Shirley Jackson Whitaker, streaming though out the gospel music listening community.  For the past three years, they have heard me stress that if they do not have a spare body in the closets they best take of this one.  With humor and catchy phrases, they listen, laugh and learn.  With this 15-minute radio spot that was first slated for only 10 Sundays, the program called “Respect the Gift” has become a fixture to the Sunday morning gospel program hosted by Denise Stewart on WTCC 90.7 in Springfield.

To the radio station, I come! Armed with the knowledge that AIDS is increasing fastest among African American female and well aware of the churches reservation and silence about this subject, I come.  Well aware that when I walk into a dialysis unit I will be faced with people that look either like me or like someone in my family, still I come.  I come with the hope that I will make my world of medicine less frightening to my people. I come and sit before the radio mike because maybe my voice may make a difference and lead my people to understand that medical knowledge and prevention is the key that will open the door to better health. 

Along with a host of medical information, for the month of June, I gave free blood pressure checks before my health segment on Sunday mornings. I often make written medical information available to them and I provide talks at churches and other venues throughout the community. 

When I meet people on the street, they gladly provide their favorite statements.  It may be: 
  • “I know you saw BeyoncĂ© with that shopping cart filled with sodas. If you think your body will look like BeyoncĂ© after drinking those sodas you are fooling your self.”

  • “Is your blood pressure, less than 140/90, if not, Why Not”!

  • “I know you know the slogan; American runs on Dunkins. But if you continue to eat those donuts every day you won’t be running, you will be wobbling.”

  • “You cannot take your blood pressure medications if you don’t want to, but if you have a stroke your friends are going to run like roaches when the light are turned on. I have seen it too many times. They will not be there. They are not going to take you to lunch, because the minute you drooled on the plate, all bets are off.  No more lunch outings for you.  They are gone and often for good.” 

Because I am an African American Nephrologist reared in the south in a community similar to Springfield. I know their fears, I know their concerns and I know what will move them. They want to be peached to but primarily in the church. I make them laugh and somehow force them to listen.  They want to live but are often confused about the world of medicine.  These are my people and I get up every Sunday morning driving from Amherst to Springfield for no pay to try and provide the best current medical information available because to me their health matters.