THE PROBLEM

Out of the wilderness, out of the night,
Has the black man crawled to the dawn of light.
Beaten by lashes and bound by chains,
A beast of burden with soul and brains,
He has come through sorrow and need and woe,
And the cry of his heart is to know,--to know.

You took his freedom and gave it again
But grudged as ye gave it, ye white faced men.
Not all of freedom is being free
And a dangerous plaything is liberty
For untaught children.  In vain do you say:

"We gave what he asked for, place and pay
And right of franchise."  All wrong, all wrong,
He was but a child to be led along
By the hand of love.  Has he felt its touch?
Nay,  you gave unwisely, and gave too much,
But you gave not the things that his groping mind
Was reaching up in the dark to find.

They were love and knowledge.  Oh, infinite
Must be the patience that hopes to right
The wrongs that are hoary with age, and brought
To the level of virtues by mortal thought.
And greater than patience must be the trust
In an ultimate outcome of what is just.
And in and under, and through and above,
Must weave the warp of the purpose of love.

Red with anguish his way has been,
This suffering brother of dusky skin.
For centuries fettered and bound to earth,
Slow his unfolding to freedom's birth.
Slow his rising from burden and ban
To fill the stature of moral man.

You must give him wings, ere you tell him to fly,
You must set the example and bid him try.
Let the white man pay for the white man's crime,
Let him work in patience and bide God's time.

Out of the wilderness, out of the night,
Has the black man crawled to the dawn of light. 
He has come through the valley of great despair,
He has borne what no white man ever can bear;
He has come through sorrow and pain and woe,
And the cry of his heart is to know--to know.

Sailing sunny seas; a story of travel in Jamaica, Honolulu, Haiti, Santo Domingo, Porto Rico, St. Thomas, Dominica, Martinique, Trinidad and the West Indies. By Ella Wheeler Wilcox.
Chicago: Conkey, 1909.


Back to Poem Index