The Black Clown


A gay and low-down blues.

Comic entrance like the clowns in the circus.

Humorous defiance.

Melancholy jazz. Then defiance again followed by loud joy.

A burst of music. Strutting and dancing.

Then sudden sadness again.

Back bent as in the fields.

The slow step.

The bowed head.

" Nobody knows de trouble I've had. "

Flinching under the whip.

The spiritual syncopated.

Determined to laugh.

A bugle call.

Gay, martial music. Walking proudly, almost prancing.

But gradually subdued to a slow, heavy pace. " Sometimes I feel like a motherless chile. "

Turning futilely from one side to the other.

But now a harsh and bitter note creeps into the music.


Backing away angrily.

Frantic with humiliation and helplessness.

The music is like a mournful tom-tom in the dark!

But out of sadness it rises to defiance and determination. A hymn of faith echoes the fighting " Marseillaise. "

Tearing off his clown's suit, throwing down the hat of a fool, and standing forth,

straight and strong, in the clothes of a modern man, he proclaims himself.


You laugh

Because I'm poor and black and funny —

Not the same as you —

Because my mind is dull

And dice instead of books will do

For me to play with

When the day is through.

I am the fool of the whole world.

Laugh and push me down.

Only in song and laughter

I rise again — a black clown.

Strike up the music.

Let it be gay.

Only in joy

Can a clown have his day.

Three hundred years

In the cotton and the cane,

Plowing and reaping

With no gain —

Empty handed as I began.

A slave — under the whip,

Beaten and sore.

God! Give me laughter

That I can stand more.

God! Give me the spotted

Garments of a clown

So that the pain and the shame

Will not pull me down.


Abe Lincoln done set me free —

One little moment

To dance with glee.

Then sadness again —

No land, no house, no job,

No place to go.

Black — in a white world

Where cold winds blow.

The long struggle for life:

No schools, no work —

Not wanted here; not needed there —

Black — you can die.

Nobody will care —

Yet clinging to the ladder,

Round by round,

Trying to climb up,

Forever pushed down.

Day after day

White spit in my face —

Worker and clown am I

For the " civilized " race.

Nigger! Nigger! Nigger!

Scorn crushing me down.

Laugh at me! Laugh at me!

Just a black clown!

Laugh at me then,

All the world round —

From Africa to Georgia

I'm only a clown!

But no! Not forever

Like this will I be:

Here are my hands

That can really make me free!

Suffer and struggle.

Work, pray, and fight.

Smash my way through

To Manhood's true right.

Say to all foemen:

You can't keep me down!

Tear off the garments

That make me a clown!

Rise from the bottom,

Out of the slime!

Look at the stars yonder

Calling through time!

Cry to the world

That all might understand:

I was once a black clown

But now —

I'm a man!

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