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For John Robert Lewis, 1940-2020 (The Virtues And Imperatives Of “Good Trouble”) By Niyi Osundare

August 20, 2020

Never give up; never give in; keep your eyes on the prize*

Never give up; never give in; keep your eyes on the prize*


A sharecropper’s son,

     He was no stranger to the buffets of Fortune

Offspring of a caste so habitually abused

     He told his blind, demeaning country: I AM A MAN


Those Forty Acres and a Mule

     Never left the page on which

Their pledge was scribbled. The demobilized

     Hordes of ‘free’ Negro humanity


Wandered, homeless, in a strange American wilderness

     Below the poverty line, below the Law

Quarry of lynch mobs, separate, so unequal

      Their very humanity the subject of perverse debate


From an abyss so abominable

     A stubborn Hope emerged

The future clear before its gaze

     Its rousing song was Freedom Now


Tear gas and water cannon served the chorus to that song

     With refrains by vicious dogs and bloody batons

Prisons brimming with Freedom Warriors

     And the staccato rash of targeted assassinations . . . .


Yours, John, is the legacy of Good Trouble

     Of boundless courage and the noble fight

From the Boy from Troy to the Conscience of Congress,

     Your talk was clear, your walk was steady


Beyond hate

     Above despair

Paragon of courage and candor

     Who saw the rainbow behind the cloud


The Selma Bridge now wears a different paint

     Its lineaments glittering in the Southern sun

Even as we keep on striving for the final lifting of

     That knee on the Negro neck


 *From one of John Lewis’s speeches