Sunday, February 28, 2021

Ella Fitzgerald First Lady of Song—Focus on Black History Month 2021

In 1972 Ella Fitzgerald sang Mac the Knife with trumpeter Al Hirt at Super Bowl VI in New Orleans as part of a tribute to Louis Armstrong.  Broadway star Carol Channing also performed.  They became the first celebrity artists to perform at the Super Bowl and Ella was the first Black woman.  

Ella Fitzgerald is regarded by many as the greatest female singer of the 20th Century and there is plenty of competition.  Her career spanned decades from a novelty song specialist as a teenager to the undisputed First Lady of Song.  She sang with big bands, invented scat singing, moved seamlessly to jazz improvisation in the bebop era, and reinterpreted the canon of the Great American Songbook introducing generations to popular music as an art form and preserving classics that otherwise might have faded from memory.

Fitzgerald was born on April 25, 1917, in Newport News, Virginia, but moved to Yonkers, New York with her mother and Portuguese-born step father in the early 20’s.  After her mother was killed in an auto accident when she was 15 she left her step fathers home quickly and moved to live with an aunt in Harlem.  Most biographers believe she had been physically or sexually abused

Despite being an excellent student in Yonkers, Fitzgerald began skipping school and hanging with a rough street crowd.  She was soon acting as a lookout for a bordello and ran numbers for a Mafia run game, a common job in Harlem.  Arrested, she was placed in the Colored Orphan Asylum in the Bronx and then at the New York Training School for Girls in upstate Hudson.  She may have again been abused there and escaped four times and was sometimes homeless back in Harlem.

A virtual street urchin with all of the predatory dangers that involves, Fitzgerald began busking on the streets dancing and imitating the jazz records she heard of Louis Armstrong, Bing Crosby, and The Boswell Sisters.  Her first break came on November 4, 1934 when she unexpectedly won one of the earliest of the Apollo Theater Amateur Nights.  She got the $25 prize—which must have seemed like a fortune—but not the promised week-long booking at the theater because of her threadbare appearance.

Young Ella with the diminutive Chick Webb at the drums in one of their famous Savoy Ballroom sets.

But the following January she did sing for a week with the Tiny Bradshaw band at the Harlem Opera House.  Then she was picked up by drummer Chick Webb’s big band despite his reservations about her “scarecrow appearance.”  She became a favorite with the band in its famous appearances at the Savoy Ballroom which were broadcast on radio.  She recorded several sides with the band and was highly regarded by her fellow musicians.

Fitzgerald already had a mid-level hit with (If You Can’t Sing It) You’ll Have to Swing It (Mr. Paganini) when a ditty she co-wrote, A-Tisket, A-Tasket became a smash and introduced her for the first time to wide White audiences. That was something of a mixed blessing—all they wanted to hear from the “little girl” were novelty songs.  Eventually it got her in movies with cameo appearances like in Abbot and Costello’s Ride ‘em Cowboy in 1942.

lla singing A-Tisket, A-Tasket from the back of the bus in the Abbot and Costello flick Ride 'em Cowboy.

But Ella was working, touring, recording, and most importantly no longer hungry or tattered.  When Webb died in 1938 Fitzgerald took over the band, which was re-named Ella’s Famous Orchestra—almost unheard of for a girl singer and recognition of her serious musical chops.  With and without Webb Ella and that band laid down almost 150 sides before the band dissolved in 1942 when many members went into the service.  Ella easily established a solo career recording at Decca and gaining critical attention with her regular appearances with the prestigious Jazz at the Philharmonic concerts.

With the demise of big band swing after World War II Fitzgerald adapted seamlessly to the new bebop sound.  Working frequently with Dizzy Gillespie she was credited with inventing scat singing—nonsense syllables improvised around the melody.  It was her way of doing as a vocalist the riffs the other musicians were inventing on the spot.  “I just wanted to do what I heard the horns playing,” she said.

Ella in  1947 with then husband Ray Brown, left, and Dizzie Gillespie, right--the Queen of Scat and Bebop.

In 1955 with Bop fading in popularity, Fitzgerald shifted gears again when she signed with Verve Records produced by Jazz at the Philharmonic impresario Norman Ganz.  Beginning with Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Cole Porter Song Book together they produced a string of landmark albums featuring what came to be known as The Great American Songbook.  Those highly regarded albums which have never gone out of issue are regarded by many as defining the canon of 20th Century popular song.

Ella and Marilyn Monroe were close friends.  The movie star was a longtime fan and the two also shared a bond of coming from abusive, troubled childhood.  Monroe gave Ella's career a big boost in 1955 by convincing the owner of the posh Sunset Strip Mocambo Club to book her by promising to show up stage side every night with celebrity guests.  Although the story is often told that the club would not book her because of her race, the real reason was that the owner did not think the overweight singer had sex appeal and glamourous enough for the gig.  It did prove a break out for her from singing in small jazz clubs to the country's top night clubs.

From the ’50 up to the early ‘90’s Fitzgerald toured widely in the U.S., Europe, and Asia performing solo concerts and collaborations with most of the leading bands and her singing peers as well as appearances with symphony orchestras.  She also made many television appearances as guest star or in her own specials.  She continued to record, including two Christmas albums that rate with those of Bing Crosby, Perry Como, Frank Sinatra, and Johnny Mathis as indispensable holiday classics.

In her later years Fitzgerald was plagued by health issues—obesity, diabetes, and repertory failure—which only slowed her down a littleWhen diabetes cost her amputation of both legs below the knee in 1993 and impaired her eyesight, she continued to perform from a seat on stage.

                                    Ella was commemorated in a 2007 USPS  Black Heritage stamp.

She died in her Beverly Hills home attended by her adopted son Ray Brown Jr. and granddaughter Alice on June 15, 1996 at the age of 79.


Saturday, February 27, 2021

Jan Ernst Matzeliger the Mulatto Immigrant Who Shod the Nation— Focus on Black History Month 2021

                            Jan Ernst Matzeliger. the immigrant mulatto  who didn't seem to fit in anywhere.

On May 19, 1885 Jan Ernst Matzeliger’s revolutionary Shoe Lasting Machine was introduced into production at a Lynn, Massachusetts factory.  Within a few years American production of factory-made shoes exploded and costs per pair to consumers dropped more than 50%.  Lynn became the center of a major industry

Matzeliger’s road to being an inventor was anything but ordinary.  He was born in 1852 in Paramaribo, Dutch Guiana (now Surinam) in South America of a Dutch engineer and a local Black womanMatzeliger inherited his father’s talent for mechanical equipment, working with him at his machine shop from the age of 10 and mastering the repair and maintenance of complicated machinery

But despite his talents, his future was clouded.  As a creole or mulatto he could not be sent to Holland for a professional education and he was not well accepted either among the white colonial elite or the mostly African and Indian local population. 

At the age of 20 he signed on a merchant vessel and spent two years as a seaman before deciding to settle in Philadelphia.  Knowing only rudimentary English, he had a hard time finding work until connecting to the local Black population through church.  They helped him find work repairing equipment of various kinds before he got a steady job in a small shoe maker’s shop

Local shops like the one in which he worked still made most of the shoes worn by Americans.  The introduction of heavy sewing machines and cutting equipment had increased the speed at which shoemakers could produce their wares since the peg and awl days of hand construction, but building finished shoes was still a laborious, hand operation.  Matzeliger took to his new trade, but recognized that tools could be improved. 

In 1877 he moved to Lynn, where nearly 50% of the nation’s shoes were being produced in local factories.  The Civil War had stimulated the need for hundreds of thousands of pairs of shoes and boots to be manufactured quickly to meet the needs of the Army.  Using the same mechanical equipment that Matzeliger found in the local Philadelphia shop, companies were able to produce more by installing many cutting and sewing machines. 

But shaping the tops and attaching them to the bottoms could not be mechanized and was done by highly skilled hand lasters who stretched and shaped leather over wood or stone molds called lasts and attached them to the soles.  Even the most skilled artisan could produce no more than 50 pair of shoes in a ten hour day.  The lasters were organized into a craft union which was able to demand high wages

After trying for months, Matzeliger was finally able to get work in one of the local factories and began studying how the master lasters manipulated the leather and began sketching ideas.  He knew that he had to educate himself in English to read and master technical information, so he attended night school after his ten hour shifts.  He lived a lonely, isolated life as one of the few people of color in Lynn shunned by his fellow workers.  He lived in a cramped room and found his only comfort in the fellowship of the local Congregational Church, the only one in town that accepted Black members

Slowly, Matzeliger began to find solutions to the complicated puzzle and began to make models of a new machine from whatever meager materials he had at hand—scrap wood, wire, a cigar box, bits of metal he laboriously hand shaped.  By the early 1880’s he knew he was onto something, but needed money to get the materials build a full scale working model

Word of his tinkering got out, despite his efforts at secrecy and he was pressured, if not threatened, by the skilled hand lasters to abandon his project.  But it was also attracting interested potential buyers.  He was offered first $50,000 and eventually $1.5 million for the rights to his as yet unpatented machine

Knowing its true value he would not sell.  He held out until he got the money to finish his model in exchange for a two-thirds share in the machine. 

Mechanical drawings for Metzliger's shoe lasting machine and another improvement to shoe production, a tack distributor.

After completing his third model in 1883 he applied for a patent.  Patent Office officials in Washington at first refused to believe that a machine could actually do all of the complicated actions of a laster as many failed patents attested.  They sent an inspector to witness the machine in action.  Astonishingly, it worked as advertised and Matzeliger’s patent was granted

His perfected machine held a shoe on a last, gripped and pulled the leather down around the heel, set and drove in the nails, and then discharged the completed shoe. It could produce up to 700 pair of shoes a day. 

An operator using Matzeliger's lasting machine on a busy factory floor.  Completed shoes to his left.

After the 1885 introduction into production, demand for Matzeliger’s machines soared.  In 1889 the Consolidated Lasting Machine Company was formed with Matzeliger a substantial minority owner.  His future seemed bright.  He continued to work on other improvements for shoe production and submitted five more patent applications. 

But before reaping the benefits of his inventions, still living alone in a single room, Matzeliger died of tuberculosis the same year.  He left his models and his stock in the new company to the congregation that took him in, the First Congregational Church in Lynn.

The First Congregational Church in Lynn, Massachusetts where Matzeliger finally found welcome and refuge was the beneficiary of his patents and ownership share in the company that produced his machines after his early death.  It was a legacy so valuable that it still benefits the congregation.

Lynn and near-by communities thrived for generations as the center of the American shoe industry until the 1970s when changing fashions to rubber-soled athletic style shoes and competition from foreign manufactures decimated the industry.  By the early 21st Century the American shoe industry made possible by Matzeliger was defunct

The 1919 United States Postal Service stamp honoring Matzeliger and his machine.

Matzeliger himself slipped into obscurity until “rediscovered” by Black history researchersHe was honored on a postage stamp on September 15, 1991.


Friday, February 26, 2021

Fisk From Freedman’s School to Premier Black University— Focus on Black History Month 2021

The historic Fisk University gate and sign. 

Within months of the end of the Civil War the leaders of the northern American Missionary Association (AMA) which was affiliated with the Congregational churches including John Ogden, Reverend Erastus Milo Cravath, field secretary; and Reverend Edward Parmelee Smith, founded the Fisk Free Colored School, for the education of freedmen in Nashville, Tennessee. It was one of several schools and colleges that the AMA which was led by ardent abolitionists helped found.

Classes opened on January 9, 1866 with about 200 students.  As word spread the enrollment quickly jumped to more than 900, a testament to the thirst for knowledge among recently freed slaves and the all-male students ranged in age from 16 to more than 70 years old.

The school was named for General Clinton B. Fisk of the Tennessee Freedmen's Bureau and an early benefactor.

The school was named in honor of General Clinton B. Fisk of the Tennessee Freedmen’s Bureau, who made unused barracks available to the school, as well as establishing the first free schools for white and black children in Tennessee. Later he endowed Fisk with a $30,000 which gave the school a firm early financial base that was wanting in other newly created Freedmen’s schools.

In response to a Reconstruction Era Tennessee state law to support public schools—a deeply radical idea in the South, was incorporated as a Normal School for the college training of teachers in August 1867.  The college was co-educational and James Dallas Burrus, John Houston Burrus, Virginia E. Walker, and America W. Robinson were the first four students to enroll.  Broughton and the two Burruses were the first African Americans to graduate from a liberal arts college south of the Mason–Dixon Line and all went on to distinguished careers.

The AMA’s Rev. Erastus Milo Cravath organized the College Department and the Mozart Society, the first musical organization in Tennessee.

Rising enrollment added to the needs of the university. In 1870 Adam Knight Spence became principal of the Fisk Normal School. To raise money and meet the needs of the growing student body and ambitious building plans his wife Catherine Mackie Spence traveled throughout the United States to set up mission Sunday schools in support of Fisk students, organizing endowments through the AMA.

The original Fisk University Jubilee Singers toured the North and Britain to support the school and its construction program. 

A student choir was organized that became known as the Fisk Jubilee Singers.  In 1871 the Singers began to tour the North in support of the school and then sailed for England in 1872 where they performed for Queen Victoria.  The successful tours, the first of many, raised more than $50,000, enough to construct the school’s first permanent building Jubilee Hall, which was completed in 1876 and is now designated a National Historic Landmark.  Through the rest of the 19th Century the school continued building program that resulted in a modern campus.

Jubilee Hall, Fisk's first permant building and now a National Historic Landmark,

Early in the 20th Century Black teachers were finally added to the Faculty including the Burrus brothers from the first graduating class.

From 1915 to 1925 Fayette Avery McKenzie, a Progressive Era sociologist and expert in and an advocate for Native Americans, served as President of Fisk.  He was notably successful in developing Fisk as the premier Black university in the United States, securing academic recognition as a standard college by the Carnegie Foundation, Columbia University, and the University of Chicago, raising a $1 million endowment fund to ensure quality faculty.  Despite laying a firm foundation for Fisk’s accreditation and future success McKenzie’s on campus authoritarian management alienated students and much of the faculty resulting in protests that led to his forced resignation.

In 1930, Fisk was the first African-American institution to gain accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS). Accreditations for specialized programs soon followed.

                        Charles Spurgeon Johnson, Fisk's first Black President.

But it was not until 1947 that Fisk had a Black PresidentCharles Spurgeon Johnson, an acclaimed sociologist and scholar who had also been the editor of Opportunity magazine, a noted periodical of the Harlem Renaissance.

In 1952 Fisk became the first predominantly Black college to earn a Phi Beta Kappa charter and honored its first student members on April 4, 1953.

In 1960 students from Fisk and from including John Lewis, Dianne Nash, James Bevel, and C.T. Vivian organized the Nashville Sit-ins at the lunch counters of major dime stores and department stores downtown.  It was the largest and most sustained such non-violent civil disobedience campaign yet in the South which after a long, sustained effort led to the city becoming the first Southern city to de-segregate public accommodations.  Lewis went on to be Chairman of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).  He and the others became key figures in the Southern Civil Rights Movement, most notably in the Selma campaign for voting rights.

Civil Rights pioneer Dianne Nash, third from left, and other Fisk Students in one of the 1960 Nashville lunch counter sit-ins.

Despite Fisk’s notable achievements in academics and as training ground for Black leadership, the school has struggled financially in the 21st Century as opportunities for talented Afro-American students opened up at all of the country’s elite and prestigious universities and as liberal arts colleges in general fell out of favor to career-focused educational programs.

From 2004 to 2013, Fisk was directed by its 14th president, Hazel O’Leary, former Secretary of Energy under President Bill Clinton and just the second woman to serve lead the university. Under her leadership Fisk successfully raised $4 million during the 2007-2008 fiscal ending nine years of budget deficits and qualified for a Mellon Foundation challenge grant.

Fisk University graduates in 2008.

Despite this respite the wolf was soon at the door again and a succession of short term presidents failed to stem the tide.  Trustees have warned that the school may be in danger of closing.  With only 700 students, a significant decline from peak attendance, the school has managed to maintain academic standards and is still included in lists of both top historically Black schools, and liberal arts colleges.

But in 2017 SACS the university’s regional accreditor placed it on probation citing failings related to financial responsibility, control of research funds, and federal and state responsibilities.

In June of 2020 the University announced that it was renaming its Institute for Social Justice in honor of one of its most distinguished graduates, late Congressman John Lewis.

Among the many distinguished graduates of Fisk are Lil Hardin Armstrong, pianist, composer, and wife of Louis Armstrong; former Washington, DC mayor Marion Barry; William Dawson powerful Chicago South Side Congressman from 1943 to 1970; Repetitive Charles Diggs of Michigan 1955-1980; W. E. B. Du Bois, leading Black intellectual and co-founder of the National Association for Colored People (NAACP); historian John Hope Franklin; poet Nikki Giovanni; Julius Lester, children’s author, musician, photographer, and professor; Congressman and senior Civil Rights figure John Lewis; Dianne Nash;  Hazel O’Leary; Ida B. Wells, civil rights leader and writer known for her anti-lynching campaigns and her Women’s Suffrage advocacy; and best-selling novelist Frank Yerby.  


Thursday, February 25, 2021

Families and Snowmen to Rally in Crystal Lake to End the ICE Contract With McHenry County

The weather prognosticators, mavens, and maybe even Woodstock Willie the groundhog say that this Saturday afternoon, February 27 temperatures will near 50° after several days above the freezing mark.  But don’t worry, we have had so much snow cover in Crystal Lake that there should still be plenty to build some snowmen and women for immigrant justice.

Community members representing 20 grassroots organizations will hold a demonstration in favor of canceling the contract between McHenry County and the U.S. Marshall's Service to imprison immigrant people on behalf of Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) at the County Jail. During the family friendly event, demonstrators will be building snowmen which will be holding signs about immigrant detention.  Participants will explain the issue and testify why they are committed to this cause.  Folks out and about in downtown Crystal Lake will be invited to join.

                                        The gazebo in Crystal Lake's Depot Park in warmer weather 

The event will be held at Depot Park, 88 East Woodstock Street at the head of downtown’s main drag, Williams Street this Saturday between 2 and 3 pm. and is sponsored by The Coalition to Cancel the ICE Contract in McHenry County.

For the last several months some members of the McHenry County Board with the vocal support of local citizens and residents have been pressing for an end to the ICE contract with the Jail.  So far that proposal has not yet come to a vote.  The action in Crystal Lake will be just the latest in a series of events and vigils meant to raise public awareness of the issue.

“We have met with McHenry County officials, and heard their concern that if we do not house people detained by ICE, that they will be sent to some other less humane jail. We are here to tell them that every jail is inhumane. Each dollar McHenry County accepts from ICE undermines community trust with local government, including the police, the schools, the courts, everything,” said Amanda Y. Garcia, a local attorney.

Although President Biden’s administration just released a plan that would offer a path to citizenship to millions of people, the Coalition members believe protecting the rights of immigrants at the local level is long overdue. “With the promise and hope of the new administration, we’ve been told to hold off. We’ve been told to wait and see what changes will be brought to immigration policy and reform; waiting isn’t an option anymore” said Sandra Davila, one of the community leaders and member of the Coalition. “We want our tax dollars to fund education, housing, nutrition, and health care programs, all of which create opportunities to grow and thrive,” said Davila.

The detention of immigrants is the unjust practice of incarcerating individuals while they await a decision on their immigration status or potential deportation. A different approach is possible by allowing people navigating their immigration cases an administrative procedure, to do so while still being active in their communities and not behind bars. The majority of people in detention have been living in the U.S. for many years and have not adjusted their status due to archaic laws, incredible backlogs, and an impossible maze of red tape.

Member organizations of the Coalition include:


Federación de Migrantes Unidos por Veracruz McHenry

Fundación Mazatecutli Chicago

Standing Up Against Racism - Woodstock

Tree of Life UU Congregation Social Justice Team

Elgin in Solidarity with Black Lives Matter

Elgin Coalition for Immigrant Rights

Fox Valley Citizens for Peace and Justice

Marengo Citizens for Equality

Progressive Podunks

Coalición de Migrantes Mexicanos

Chicago Manuel Revueltas

Federación Hidalguense en Illinois y Medio Oeste Chicago

Dupage Immigrant Solidarity

Schaumburg Area Progressives

Occupy Elgin

Aurora Rapid Response Team

Fox Valley DSA

Efecto Violeta Radio

Champaign Urbana Friends and Allies of Immigrants

Lake County Immigrant Advocacy

Center for Immigrant Progress

Illinois Workers in Action

McHenry County NOW

McHenry County Progressives

For more information on the Coalition and to keep abreast of developments in the campaign to end the ICE contract join and visit the Coalition to Cancel the ICE Contract in McHenry County Facebook Group .



Nikki Giovanni A Poet in Rebellion— Focus on Black History Month 2021

Nikki Giovanni--young, Black, and revolutionary.

Nikki Giovanni was born in 1943 in Knoxville, Tennessee in a close knit family.  She was inspired by her grandmother, a natural story teller, to explore the use of words.  After growing up in a middle class Black suburb of Columbus, Ohio, she attended Fisk University in Nashville, one of the most prestigious of the historically Black colleges.

At Fisk not only did she find her voice as a poet and writer, but she was immersed in the Civil Rights Movement and the growing militancy of emerging Black Power.  She served as editor of the campus literary magazine, participated in the Fisk Writers Workshop, and helped re-build the Fisk chapter of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).  After graduation in turbulent 1968 Giovanni went on to graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University in New York.

While still an undergraduate Giovanni published her first collection of poetry, Black Feeling, Black Talk in 1967 in response to the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Medgar Evers, and Robert Kennedy.  A year later she followed up with Black Judgment, an exploration and appreciation of Black militancy.  The two books catapulted her into the front ranks of a new generation of poets and one who had appeal to wider audiences.  A third volume, Re: Creation published in 1970 cemented her place as a leading young Black voice.  She was soon embarked on popular readings, often incorporating Black music.

Giovanni took a teaching position at Rutgers University and gave birth to her son Thomas.  She worked to help other Black writers find outlets through NikTom, Ltd., a publishing cooperative which published Gwendolyn Brooks, Margaret Walker, Carolyn Rodgers, and Mari Evans.

                                The birth of her son Thomas who she raised as a single mother had an enormous influence on Giovanni.

As Giovanni matured as a poet and woman her interests broadened.  She continued to write in clear, accessible language about her life and experiences, but later work was not as explicitly political as her early efforts.

She also began writing for children and young people beginning with Spin a Soft Black Song in 1971 and continuing through her Caldecott Medal winning Rosa in 2005.

Giovanni was teaching at Virginia Tech in 2007 when the tragic shooting occurred there.  She composed a memorial chant that was recited at the campus memorial service the next day.

She has written dozens of books, including two compilations, and non-fiction work.  Giovanni is among the most honored of contemporary poets having received the NAACP Image Award, the Langston Hughes Award for Distinguished Contributions to Arts and Letters, the Rosa Parks Women of Courage Award, and over twenty honorary degrees from colleges and universities around the country.

Maya Angelou and Giovanni with Joanna Gabbin, organizers for a tribute to Toni Morrison in 2012.

Poem for a Lady Whose Voice I Like


so he said: you ain’t got no talent
if you didn’t have a face
you wouldn't be nobody

and she said: god created heaven and earth
and all that’s Black within them

so he said: you ain’t really no hot shit
they tell me plenty sisters
take care better business than you

and she said: on the third day he made chitterlings
and all good things to eat
and said: “that’s good.”

so he said: if the white folks hadn’t been under
yo skirt and been giving you the big play
you'd a had to come on uptown like everybody else

and she replied: then he took a big Black greasy rib
from adam and said we will call this woeman and her
name will be sapphire and she will divide into four parts
that simone may sing a song

and he said: you pretty full of yourself ain’t chu

so she replied: show me someone not full of herself
and I’ll show you a hungry person


—Nikki Giovanni


A Historical Footnote to Consider Only When All Else Fails


(For Barbara Crosby)
While it is true
(though only in a factual sense)
That in the wake of a
Her-I-can comes a
Surely I am not
The gravitating force
that keeps this house
full of panthers

Why, LBJ has made it
quite clear to me
He doesn’t give a
Good goddamn what I think
(else why would he continue to masterbate in public?)

Rhythm and Blues is not
The downfall of a great civilization
And I expect you to
That the Temptations
have no connection with

We must move on to
the true issues of
Our time
like the mini-skirt
And perhaps take a
Closer look at
Flour power

It is for Us
to lead our people
out of the
into the streets
into the streets
(for safety reasons only)
Lord knows we don’t
Want to lose the
of our Jewish friends

So let us work
for our day of Presence
When Stokely is in
The Black House
And all will be right with
Our World


—Nikki Giovanni



Kidnap Poem


Ever been kidnapped
by a poet
if i were a poet
I’d kidnap you
put you in my phrases and meter
You to jones beach
or maybe coney island
or maybe just to my house
lyric you in lilacs
dash you in the rain
blend into the beach
to complement my see
Play the lyre for you
ode you with my love song
anything to win you
wrap you in the red Black green
show you off to mama
yeah if i were a poet I’d kid
nap you

—Nikki Giovanni




If i can’t do

what i want to do

then my job is to not

do what i don’t want

to do

It’s not the same thing

but it's the best i can



If i can’t have

what i want . . . then

my job is to want

what I’ve got

and be satisfied

that at least there

is something more to want


Since i can’t go

where i need

to go . . . then i must . . . go

where the signs point

through always understanding

parallel movement

isn’t lateral


When i can't express

what i really feel

i practice feeling

what i can express

and none of it is equal

I know

but that’s why mankind

alone among the animals

learns to cry


—Nikki Giovanni