Silent Protest Parade
(On Fifth Avenue, New York, Saturday, July 28, 1917, protesting against the St. Louis riots)
Were you there? Did you see? Gods! wasn't it fine!
Did you notice how straight we kept the line,
As we marched down the famous avenue,
Silent, dogged and dusky of hue,
Keeping step to the sound of the muffled drum,
With its constantly recurring tum—tum, tum—
Ten thousand of us, if there was one!
As goodly a sight as this ancient sun
Has ever looked upon!
Youth and maid
Father, mother—not one afraid
Or ashamed to let the whole world know
What he thought of the hellish East St. Louis "show,"
Orgy—riot—mob—what you will,
Where men and e'en women struggled to kill
Poor black workers, who'd fled in distress from the South
To find themselves murdered and mobbed in the North.
We marched as a protest—we carried our banner,
On which had been boldly inscribed every manner
Of sentiment—all, to be sure, within reason—
But no flag—not that we meant any treason—
Only who'd have the heart to carry Old Glory,
After hearing all of the horrible story,
Of East St. Louis? and never a word,
From the nation's head, as if he'd not heard
The groans of the dying ones here at home,
Though 'tis plain he can hear even farther than Rome.
Oh, yes, I was there in the Silent Parade,
And a man (he was white) I heard when he said,
"If they had music now, 'twould be great!"—
"We march not, sir, with hearts elate,
But sad; we grieve for our dark brothers
Murdered, and we hope that others
Will heed our protest against wrong,
Will help to make our protest strong."
Were you there? Ah, brothers, wasn't it fine!
The children God bless 'em headed the line;
Then came the mothers dressed in white,
And some my word! 'twas a thrilling sight
Carried their babies upon their breast,
Face tense and eager as forward they pressed,
With never a laugh and never a word,
But ever and always, the thing they heard
Was the tum—tum—, tum, tum,
Of the muffled drum—tum, tum, tum!
And last the black-coated men swung by,
Head up, chest firm, determined eye—
I was so happy, I wanted to cry.
As I watched the long lines striding by,
(Ten thousand souls if there was one)
And I knew that "to turn, the worm had begun,"
As we marched down Fifth Avenue unafraid
And calm, in our first Silent Protest Parade!
This poem is in the public domain.