Among the most interesting young Negro poets writing today are the exciting LeRoi Jones (also a playwright of no mean ability), Julia Fields (who was in Birmingham at the height of its racial disturbances), Julian Bond (of the Student Non-violent Committee), and David Henderson (only twenty-one, of Greenwich Village), all of whom are most intense in their poetic fervor against injustice.(5) “The Negro in Western civilization has been exposed to overwhelming historical and sociological pressures that are bound to be reflected in the verse he has written and inspired,” wrote Arna Bontemps, which he balances by saying, “The fact that he has used poetry as a form of expression has also brought him into contact with literary trends and influences. How one of these forces or the other has predominated, and how the results may be weighed and appraised are among the questions to which the poetry itself contains answers.” In the Annual Poetry Issue of the Negro Digest (September, 1965) there is a poem by Dudley Randall of Detroit,(6) “Black Poet, White Critic,” which ends with a question that is also in its inverse way an answer:
A critic advises
Not to write on controversial topics
Like freedom or murder,
But to treat universal themes
And timeless symbols
Like the white unicorn.
A white unicorn?
Does it believe in integration?
And why not a black unicorn?
(1) Hughes intended this piece as an introduction to Jean Wagner’s Anthology de la Poésie Negro-Américaine, which was translated as Black Poets of the United States: From Paul Laurence Dunbar to Langston Hughes (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1973). The pome to which Hughes refers is “Bar Fight,” by the African American writer Lucy Terry (ca. 1730-1821).
(2) Jupiter Hammon (1711-ca. 1806), the first published African American writer, was a poet, essayist, and preacher; George Moses Horton (ca. 1797-ca. 1883), the first African American to use verse to protest slavery; Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (1825-1911), African American novelist, poet, essayist, and orator.
(3) William Waring Cuney (1906-1976), one of the lesser-known poets of the Harlem Renaissance.
(4) Richard Gibson, African American journalist.
(5) Julia Fields (1938-), African American poet, short story writer, teacher, and dramatist; Julian Bond (1940-), African American activist, historian, and educator; David Henderson, African American poet and biographer.
(6) Dudley Randall (1914-2000), African American poet, publisher, and editor.