Palestine, Too, Is Worth Its Song

When we think of the Civil Rights Movement, what comes to mind? We think of the achievements and the victories, the marches and the protests, the struggles that eventually paid dividends. But the struggle for racial equality in this country wasn’t always in motion—there were bleak times, desperate times, where the injustices seemed insurmountable.

For decades before the movements of Dr. Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, black activists worked and wrote and toiled, often when it seemed in vain. Countee Cullen was a poet of the Harlem Renaissance, and he wrote a poem that has striking resonance with many struggles for justice today. In his day, as in ours, the artistic community was a powerful engine for change in society. The entertainment industry plays a powerful role in shaping public perception, and celebrity and athlete idols are often as revered today as stone and wood idols were of old.

Countee Cullen wrote a poem about the trial of the Scottsboro boys—young black men who were falsely accused and convicted of the rape of a white woman, though the alleged victims admitted in court that the boys were innocent. Biased, racist juries returned guilty verdicts multiple times for the boys, a blatant example of the widespread discrimination African Americans faced in the era. And the artistic community was silent, to the disappointment of Cullen, who wrote his poem, “Scottsboro, Too, Is Worth Its Song.” His disappointment echoes today, where even the most liberal figures in the artistic community, or “Hollywood,” are silent about the plight of the Palestinians, and the injustices those people face as a matter of policy. Indeed, we saw many celebrities attacked this past summer for merely offering sympathy for the innocents killed.

The poem reads powerfully, especially relevant when the word “Scottsboro” is replaced by “Palestine.”

Scottsboro, Too, Is Worth Its Song

(A poem to American poets)
1934

I SAID:

Now will the poets sing,

Their cries go thundering

Like blood and tears

Into the nation’s ears,

Like lightning dart

Into the nation’s heart.

Against disease and death and all things fell,

And war,

Their strophes rise and swell

To jar

The foe smug in his citadel.

Remembering their sharp and pretty

Tunes for Sacco and Vanzetti,

I said:

Here too’s a cause divinely spun

For those whose eyes are on the sun,

Here in epitome

Is all disgrace

And epic wrong.

Like wine to brace

The minstrel heart, and blare it into song.

Surely, I said,

Now will the poets sing.

But they have raised no cry.

I wonder why.

The Scottsboro boys were imprisoned, beaten and shot. The last of them went into hiding, until 1976 when he was pardoned by the State of Alabama. That injustice was recognized by a shamed world, after much work had been done to remedy the injustices of society. That struggle continues, as does the struggle for Palestine. The poets are silent yet on Palestine, but that is changing. So we do not give up, we do not give in, and we will never be silent. Because Palestine, too, is worth its song.

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7 Comments Add yours

  1. Hajra says:

    Why does replacing Scottsboro with Palestine make it “especially relevant”? The poem continues to be especially relevant with its original title and replacing Scottsboro with Palestine only leads to ahistorical comparisons and the erasure of the struggles of African Americans.

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    1. muadhkhan says:

      JazakAllahu khayran for the read and response.

      > The poem continues to be especially relevant with its original title

      Of course, I wasn’t proposing changing the title or forgetting the original significance. The struggle against racism in this country goes on (as I said), but that struggle was once as unsung as pro-Palestinian activism is today. That is the comparison I wanted to make, nothing more. By imagining Palestine in place of Scottsboro, I was drawing attention to the fact that the poem reads powerfully to the present Palestinian situation, it’s such an exact description. The poets have found their voices regarding racism since Cullen’s day, but they are yet silent on Palestine.

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      1. Hajra says:

        But what is the point of emphasizing the Palestinian struggle over dead black bodies, especially when in this country an unarmed black man is shot every 28 hours by police? I’d say the struggle of Blacks continues to be very much as unsung as support of Palestine. Don’t you think that if you were to make a more accurate comparison that you’d give more recognition to the ongoing struggles of Blacks than simply saying “that struggle continues”? I’m not trying to imply that I think you are aware of the racism Blacks continue to face, but I think it’s important to be mindful of contexts when comparing struggles to avoid erasure and downplaying certain oppressions.

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    2. muadhkhan says:

      I can’t reply to your other comment, so I’m responding here.

      Texts can have multiple meanings, and invoke subjective responses in the reader. This piece wasn’t emphasizing that Palestinian struggle is more intrinsically linked to this poem than the African American struggle, but it’s merely one thing that stood out *to me* about this poem.

      I don’t feel that not mentioning other struggles is downplaying them at all. This poem is focused on one struggle, with all due respect to the others. I expressed some reflections about the poem without claiming it to be in any way, a comprehensive exposition.

      Eid Mubarak!

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  2. A Concerned Citizen says:

    Is the picture for this article actually of the handwriting of one of our MSA members? Because it looks beautiful.

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    1. Heba says:

      It’s mine, yeah. Thank you! c:

      Like

      1. muadhkhan says:

        Oh, no way, you wrote that? Jazakillahu khayran, beautifully done.

        Like

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