Map of Austin Poetry #167-1 Theme: Civil Wrongs/Civil Rights

1. Shia Barnett is founder and coordinator of Salute to African American Writers. See announcement about SAAW below the poems.

Civil Unrest

We move through time

fighting each other

fighting ourselves

Undoing God’s grace

Thinking from birth

We rule the earth

Committing crimes against humanity.

Masked marauders and hooded klans

Derailed the freedom train

So we become night crawlers

And move


With a patchwork of constellations

Quilted in the skies

Like street signs as our guide.



...unless you are black, brown, yellow, red,

Or a woman.

So we fight

For the civil liberties granted by God

Not man,

But our Complex keeps us from understanding our


Immorality fuels our flight

Until we crash /then burn

Openly spouting promises of quality

While serving up

One for you,

One, two, for me.

See, your rung is lower than mine and

I might get black on me!

The isms institutionalized

Our civil rights compromised

Our dignity eulogized on the evening news.

Insecurities manifest

In laws set to molest

Our esteem

Lured into projects

Like lab rats

Run by government cats

Handing out checks and cheese

And injections of life-threatening disease.

So we fight

To survive.

Blinded by his-story

We prepare for battle,

but lose the war

Because we see the enemy in our own eyes.

We be robbing the hoods of Knottingham

Taking from the poor

Thinking it makes us richer

Looking for Easy Street

In a complex world.

Civil servants dishing out whoop-ass

With no charge,

Violating our right to be treated like humans.


I try to stuff spoonsful of

civil rights

in my mouth

Though I have been

savagely wronged.

Sometimes, all I can think of is

stalked, stolen, stripped, herded, shackled, crammed, jammed, starved, raped, whipped, beaten, bloodied, hanged, dragged, shot, frustrated, berated, castrated



I fight

To remain sane and civil

But my rage is fresh

So I gather it into a cage and

Set it free on the East River

Then I ascend like a wind

Looking for my meaning in the universe.

I find my center and cypher knowledge

From the tails of comets

I seek refuge in my dance around the rings of Saturn

I inhale serenity and release myself into a free fall back to earth

With the strength to raise my fist

For the fight.

© 1999 by Shia Shabazz Barnett


2. Hilbert Turner, Jr. acknowledges those who came before, paving the way for his civil rights.


Freedom does not come easily.

This I know.

And since I did not have to march or protest

Or be threatened by hooded cowards, attacked by dogs, or spit on

In pursuit of my freedom,

There are some people I have to acknowledge.

Because of Martin Luther King, Jr. I am free to dream.

Because of Rosa Parks and the students in Greensboro I am free to stand

up for myself by sitting down.

Because of Medgar Evers and the Freedom Riders-especially Schwerner,

Goodman, and Chaney - I am free to vote.

Because of John Brown and Nat Turner I am free to fight against what is


Because of Malcolm X and the Black Panthers I am free to defend myself

against tyranny.

Because of Booker T. Washington, Thurgood Marshall, Mary McLeod Bethune,

the Little Rock Nine and countless others I am free to learn anything


The struggle for freedom does not take place in a vacuum.

This I also know.

There were those in high places

Who refused to see that people are essentially the same.

Their ignorance impeded freedom's arrival,

But they could not stop it.

In spite of Roger Taney and the 3/5 clause I am free to consider myself


In spite of the hypocrisy of the Declaration of Independence I am free to

consider myself equal.

In spite of George Wallace, Orval Faubus, Bull Connor, etc. I am free to

live, work, and associate with whomever I choose.

In spite of Plessy v. Ferguson I am free to drink the same water, ride in

the same railroad car, and sit in the same movie theater as anyone else.

There are many others I could name on both sides

And a thousand times more that I cannot.

But just the same I owe it to them

To make sure their efforts were not in vain.

Because of Harriet Tubman and in spite of Byron de LaBeckwith and James

Earl Ray (maybe)

Because of the passengers aboard the Amistad and in spite of the vengeful

people of 1921 Tulsa and 1923 Rosewood

Because of Abraham Lincoln and in spite of J. Edgar Hoover

Thoughts can flow from behind these eyes and

Words can fly from under this tongue and

Courage can burgeon from within this heart.

Due to their thoughts, words, and courage

Actions, philosophies, and bravery

Perseverance, fervor, and sacrifices

I am free.

© Hilbert Turner, Jr.

3. Jeanne Spicuzza’s poem was written for the Poets for Palestine anthology.

What is the sound of one hand clapping?

- Zen Koan

It defies all reason

one hand clapping

the sound of

a Nazi salute

(Hitler wasn't the only monster

to tarnish our history)

the sound of


realizing our fate

a father losing his son

a melody done

a child huddled in fear

a mother screaming

in anguish,

her baby's face

blown off

there is no destruction of the enemy

only destruction of ourselves

the echo of a race

the sound of

once was

peeling skin color


and differences

drifting away

out of body

what is left?

only one

the sound of


a person


the sound of


the sound of


greed and pride

it is silence

one hand clapping

defies all reason

the other,

a clenched fist

and closed heart

turning its back

on humanity.

© 1999 Jeanne Spicuzza


4. Gary Blankenship tells a disquieting tale.

When Jeffty Was Five

Black flags hung limp

under yellow Texas skies.

Pecans littered underfoot,

cautious yellow dogs

licked the wet ground,

weary of impatient boots.

On his Pa's shoulder,

Jeffty sipped a lemon ice

as Uncle Frank sharpened his buck knife,

dulled on bone and tooth,

and Ma fumbled to load her Brownie.

Aunt Rose fussed she would never

get her sunflower dress clean again,

and Bobbie handed Jefferie

good throwing rocks.

Joe Groggins hollered to the crowd

"Come on boys, let's burn

the whole damn lot of thieving dogs

out of their filthy nests," his sons

dumbly peering up the high yeller.

Pa set Jeffty down

and said to Bobbie, "Come on, son. Time

you were a man." Ma nodded and Frank,

guffawed as he spit tawny

chaw at the flag's fringe.

The evening sky split

with the clamor of crows

calling clan to feast.

A wet Texas dawn,

men in khaki burned

tattered flags in bean fields.

When Jeff was seventy-nine,

he cried when Mrs. Washington

in room 206 down the hall died.

He had seldom slept without awakening

to her whimpers from dreams

of her sister, Thelma, being pulled

apart by yellow dogs.

© Gary Blankenship


5. I met up with Hippie Rick last week in Santa Monica, where he did this piece at the Rapp Saloon.

Father Groppi

Wind winds through willows

Tatters leaves of trees near the slow moving stream

On a lazy afternoon

Someones mother

A widow

Weeps a river of tears

As the stream ripples by

Her voice is heard asking why

Water battles ancient rock

In an eternal struggle to be free

Free to move free to flow

Free to be itself

Just as sure as a surgeons hand cuts cancer

Water dissolves rock to a grain of sand

A victory for water

But as each victory is won

Another struggle is found

A restroom criminal not really

But unjustly punished extremely

A sleeping spirit lies on the ground

A crimson pool all around the hole

Where lead entered head

Cracking bones and stilling dreams

Still others dream

And you were there father

You were there when he spoke of his dream

A dream that would change the world it seems

You were part of his vision

A dream of non-violence

In a world with no open mindedness

A vision for all people to

Freely form friendships and walk

Hand in Hand

Without lines drawn in the sand

Freedom ringing through the land

Free just to be

Without hate and bigotry


Separation segregation discrimination is an abomination

A dream that tore at the heart of the nation


A needed dream it was

You were in Selma

When prayer from bowed heads

Were answered in blood shed

You were with them on the 50 mile hike to Montgomery

Saw the brutal beatings

Helped the wounded pray over the dead

And you were in Milwaukee

A city that had no problems until they were brought out into the


Housing or everyone no matter the color

No matter the creed

There was a need

For your services father

You were a doctor with protest and marches as the scalpel

To help cut a societal cancer

With faith

You were

Freedom fighting fragments of fascist thinking

Oppressors opposed you every opportunity they had

Sad though

You loved your work in the priesthood

Helping hapless homeless masses get a chance at life

But you heart was at a fork in your lifes path

You married

And the church excommunicated you with it's own discriminating rules

In the end

A cancer of another kind put you down

And on that day

Wind wound through willows carrying prayers for you

A city by a river wept

While water flowed

A bit slower

Without your energy

To help it flow freely

In an eternal struggle

© 1999 by Hippie Rick


6. "Why They Hate N***as" [excerpt] by Jeff Sloan

Because you think we all look alike,

Being too lazy in your judgement

Thinking most blacks are thieves and malcontents

Who rob, steal, and murder with no conscience

Because you are shaped be stereotypical nonsense!

Just because twenty five percent are in the system

There's seventy five percent with the wisdom

Of living right and denying wrong

Who have been lucky not to sing the sad, sad, song

About the possibility of rehabilitation

Within the cold gray walls of a prison nation

But not lucky enough, as you know,

To escape the ignorance that you sow

Within the minds of the repressed,

Distressed, and depressed

Minions throughout my clique,

Reaping a harvest that is sick

Vile in its nature and posture,

Isn't it funny how it comes back to haunt you!

You blame my people for this welfare state

Even when you control my fate

And expect me to compete in this system

Where the deck is stacked with -isms

Along with the brothers -cide

Who seem to always come along for the ride.

You see, they all come together

Like birds of an apocalyptic feather.

Racism, genocide, homicide.

Kissing cousins intertwined,

Through the fabric of our being

Which has my people seething

With misplaced anger and hate

Against ones who share our same fate

Even though our color is the same

And a history of kings to claim

Some still look in the mirror,

Open their eyes and shiver

At the sight of skin like mahogany,

Chestnut, cinnamon, and ebony,

Chocolate, tan, indigo

Bronze, copper, and the color of gold,

Honey-smooth, with the gleam of brass,

Tones of skin with a resplendent past.

And it hurts me to envision

A future spoiled with division

Among niggas I call my own

Who can't see the crippling wrong

That they do to themselves

But wouldn't wish on anyone else

That doesn't live where we live

Or have the compassion to give

A hand of help, not hindrance

To the scores of tenants

Within their economic bounds

Who have not seen nor found

Any inkling of the "American Dream"

Only life in America, where misery is our theme.