Friday, June 20, 2014

On the Road: Selma, Alabama and the Poetry of Soul

After twice being turned back at Edmund Pettus Bridge. The March to Freedom from Selma began on March 21, 1965.

Next year marks the 50th Anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery Voting Rights March from Selma, Alabama to the state capitol 54 miles away in Montgomery. The march, from March 21-25, 1965 was a cold, wet affair that months later resulted in the Voting Rights Act being passed "the most successful civil rights law in the nation's history."

The Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail today is marked with historical markers along U.S. Highway 80 and the Lowndes County Interpretive Center one mile from Tent City that recalls the March and the struggles of African Americans in the deep south of the mid 1960s. At the Interpretive Center we purchased two books of poetry.

The Bar None Group has featured poetry by one of the authors, Paul Laurence Dunbar. The other poet whose Selected Poems we purchased was from Claude McKay. His poem, I Know My Soul reminds us of this day traveling America's south and the struggle of a people. Of a nation.


I Know My Soul

I plucked my soul out of its secret place,
And held it to the mirror of my eye,
To see it like a star against the sky,
A twitching body quivering in space,
A spark of passion shining on my face.
And I explored it to determine why
This awful key to my infinity
Conspires to rob me of sweet joy and grace.
And if the sign may not be fully read,
If I can comprehend but not control,
I need not gloom my days with futile dread,
Because I see a part and not the whole.
Contemplating the strange, I'm comforted
By this narcotic thought: I know my soul.


Claude McKay


Claude McKay (1889-1948) was the first major poet to arise from the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s with the publication of his Harlem Shadows in 1922. Born in Jamaica, he first came to America in 1912 to further his education. In a 1918 essay, A Negro Poet Writes, McKay opines that, "...one must seek for the noblest and best in the individual life only: each soul must save itself."