Let’s Recall Some Great Men

Let’s recall some great men, who’ve been fighting for our rights
Let’s recall some great men, who’ve been fighting for our rights
Let’s recall some great men, who’ve been fighting for our rights
Let’s recall some great men, who’ve been fighting for our rights
Recall them, recall them

— Burning Spear

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—oh, 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!

Oh, Kinsmen! We must meet the common foe;

Though far outnumbered, let us show us brave,

And for their thousand blows deal one deathblow!

What though before us lies the open grave?

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

Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!

If We Must Die — Claude McKay

Jamaican writer and poet, Festus Claudius “Claude” McKay, was born on September 15, 1889, in Nairne Castle near James Hill, Clarendon.

 He was a seminal figure in the Harlem Renaissance. He wrote four novels namely: Home to Harlem (1928), a best-seller that won the Harmon Gold Award for Literature, Banjo (1929), Banana Bottom (1933), and in 1941 a manuscript called Amiable With Big Teeth: A Novel of the Love Affair Between the Communists and the Poor Black Sheep of Harlem which remained unpublished until 2017.

McKay also authored collections of poetry, a collection of short stories, Gingertown (1932), two autobiographical books, A Long Way from Home (1937) and My Green Hills of Jamaica (published posthumously), and a non-fiction, socio-historical treatise entitled Harlem: Negro Metropolis (1940).

His 1922 poetry collection, Harlem Shadows, was among the first books published during the Harlem Renaissance.

His Selected Poems was published posthumously, in 1953.

The foregoing poem, titled, If We Must Die, was written by McKay at a time when there was huge social and political upheaval in the U.S. as well as a period of intense racial violence against black people, dubbed the Red Summer.

During the summer of 1919, race riots spread through multiple cities, both in the North and South. Racial tensions heightened and African Americans fought against the injustices meted out them.

McKay later went to England where he became involved in the communist political movement. He spent some time in Russia before returning to the United States.

He espoused the communist ideology but later became disillusioned and converted to Catholicism.

McKay died from a heart attack in Chicago in 1948 at age 58.

Yvad Billings, Readers Bureau, Fellow

Edited by Jesus Chan

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