BLACK HISTORY MONTH LEAP-DAY FAREWELL: I LOVE YOU MADLY
rdumain at igc.apc.org
Thu Feb 29 10:46:19 MST 1996
"WE, TOO, SING 'AMERICA'"
[excerpt from speech by Duke Ellington, 1941]
I have been asked to take as the subject of my remarks the title
of a very significant poem, "We, Too, Sing America," written by
the distinguished poet and author, Langston Hughes.
In the poem, Mr. Hughes argues the case for democratic recognition
of the Negro on the basis of the Negro's contribution to America,
a contribution of labor, valor, and culture. One hears that
argument repeated frequently in the Race press, from the pulpit
and rostrum. America is reminded of the feats of Crispus Attucks,
Peter Salem, black armies in the Revolution, the War of 1812, the
Civil War, the Spanish-American War, the World War. Further,
forgetful America is reminded that we sing without false notes, as
borne out by the fact that there are no records of black traitors
in the archives of American history. This is all well and good,
but I believe it to be only half the story.
We play more than a minority role, in singing "America". Although
numerically but 10 per cent of the mammoth chorus that today, with
an eye overseas, sings "America" with fervor and thanksgiving, I
say our 10 per cent is the very heart of the chorus: the sopranos,
so to speak, carrying the melody, the rhythm section of the band,
the violins, pointing the way.
I contend that the Negro is the creative voice of America, is
creative America, and it was a happy day in America when the first
unhappy slave was landed on its shores.
There, in our tortured induction into this "land of liberty," we
built its most graceful civilization. Its wealth, its flowering
fields and handsome homes; its pretty traditions; its guarded
leisure and its music, were all our creations.
We stirred in our shackles and our unrest awakened Justice in the
hearts of a courageous few, and we recreated in America the desire
for true democracy, freedom for all, the brotherhood of man,
principles on which the country had been founded.
We were freed, and as before, we fought America's wars, provided
her labor, gave her music, kept alive her flickering conscience,
prodded her on toward the yet unachieved goal, democracy -- until
we became more than a part of America! We -- this kicking,
yelling, touchy, sensitive, scrupulously-demanding minority --
are the personification of the ideal begun by the Pilgrims almost
350 years ago.
It is our voice that sang "America" when America grew too lazy,
satisfied and confident to sing ... before the dark threats and
fire-lined clouds of destruction frightened it into a thin,
We are more than a few isolated instances of courage, valor,
achievement. We're the injection, the shot in the arm, that has
kept America and its forgotten principles alive in the fat and
corrupt years intervening between our divine conception and our
near tragic present.
[for full text of this speech, see p. 146-148 of THE DUKE
ELLINGTON READER edited by Mark Tucker, Oxford University Press,
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