Friday, July 15, 2011

PROFILE: "Claude McKay"

by Tony Lindsay

The summer of 1919 was a brutal heartless time for America. James Weldon Johnson labeled it the Red Summer due to the bloodshed that occurred in race riots in Arkansas, Chicago, and DC. In response to the climate of the country, Claude McKay, a recent immigrant from Jamaica wrote 'If We must Die'. The poem was considered one of the initiating pieces of the Harlem Renaissance.

                                                    If We Must Die

 If we must die, let it not be like hogs

Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot.

While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs.

Making their mock at our accursed lot.

If we must die, O let us nobly die,

So that our precious blood may not be shed

In vain; then even the monsters we defy

Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!

O kinsmen! we must meet the common foe!

Though far outnumbered let us show us brave.

And for their blows deal one deathblow!

What though before us lies the open?

Like men we'll face the murderous, cowardly pack,

Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!

The Harlem Renaissance emerged as a social, political, and artistic movement for African Americans, letting America know that there was a New Negro within its mist. A literate, educated Negro who saw the injustice of the nation and was able to speak out against it. Festus Claudius McKay was one of the first to write against the events of the times.      

Tony Lindsay is a writer and adjunct professor at Chicago State University. He can be reached at or on Facebook at


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