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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