The Town Fathers

By Melvin B. Tolson 1898–1966
At the Courthouse Square
On the Fourth of July,
Beneath Old Glory’s
Pyrotechnic sky,
The town fathers met,
Minus Bible and rye.
Against the statue
Of Confederate dead
The Mayor spat
His snuff and said,
“We need a slogan!”
And he palmed his head.
The Sheriff’s idioms
Dynamited assent.
The Judge croaked a phrase
Latinistically bent.
And the Mayor pondered
With official intent.
On a neon billboard,
As high as a steeple,
The travelers puzzle
The amazing sequel:
The Blackest Land
And The Whitest People.

Melvin Tolson, "The Town Fathers" from Harlem Gallery and Other Poems of Melvin B. Tolson (Charlottesville: The University Press of Virginia, 1999)

Source: "Harlem Gallery" and other Poems of Melvin B. Tolson (University Press of Virginia, 1999)

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet Melvin B. Tolson 1898–1966

SCHOOL / PERIOD Harlem Renaissance

Subjects Social Commentaries, Race & Ethnicity, Town & Country Life

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza

 Melvin B. Tolson


Known for his complex, challenging poetry, Melvin B. Tolson earned little critical attention throughout most of his life, but he eventually won a place among America's leading black poets. He was, in the opinion of Allen Tate, author of the preface to Tolson's Libretto for the Republic of Liberia, the first black poet to assimilate "completely the full poetic language of his time and, by implication, the language of the . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Social Commentaries, Race & Ethnicity, Town & Country Life

SCHOOL / PERIOD Harlem Renaissance

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza

Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.