Black History Month: Celebrating African American Poetry and Literature

These people helped write the autobiography of America

By Ryon Singleton

Literature and spoken word are the whispers of the mind and heart that blow in the wind the, glowing ambers of peace, love and revolution. Sparking the fires that storytellers for centuries sat in front of igniting the minds of the listener. Street poets rapping from soapboxes and street corners speaking to that voice inside that no one but yourself could hold those truths. From the days of our people landing on these western shores, our storytellers and poets have been instilling our history into the masses of a united struggle for freedom, peace and equality. Singing songs of freedom, stories of redemption and showing the strength of unity in times of need, these geniuses of African American literature are some of the historians that have added to an ever-growing Autobiography of a People.

Big Rube

From the seriousness and intensity in the voice of this poet, Big Rube has been an oracle of the Southern street poet scene for over 30 years. The deep voice and silky southern drawl of the Atlanta Poet has been featured on tracks with such musicians as Oukast and TLC as well-as, been featured on Def Comedy Jam and FX’s Atlanta. Many may get lost in the southern slang but to those with an open eye can understand the complexity into the questions Rube asks the listener. Making one question their social beliefs, economic situation and giving listeners a reality check of themselves through thought provoking lyrics and being a beacon of inspirations with a cautionary tone.
Those That Live Cautiously think they will live forever those that live on the daring
side live for legacy” – Big Rube

James Baldwin

James Baldwin was one of the greatest literary thinkers of the early 1960’s, Baldwin was born in Harlem in the 20’s during the Harlem renaissance era in New York City and began his writing career soon after finishing high school. Baldwin credits Richard Wright as one of his influences growing up. Like Wright, James Baldwin used his literal works to be a chronicler of the time, with written works that boldly asked America questions pertaining about thoughts on race, “Separate but equal” Plessy Vs. Ferguson , ethics of the Jim Crow Laws and writing about his sexuality which were social taboos of the times. James Baldwin made strides during the Civil Right Movement by appearing on talk shows and speaking to news outlets of plight facing African Americans seeking equal rights along with Martin Luther King on the march on Washington in 1963. Many of James Baldwin works lasted throughout time with some of the same questions and topics he so vividly debated that we still face as a nation today.

“I love America more than any other country in the world and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”
James Baldwin

Gil Scott Heron

Some would say Gil Scott Heron was the godfather of Rap, The loud speaker for the chants of revolution will not be televised. Gil Scott was opening the minds of free thinkers of the late 60’s till the late 70’s with bongo laden jazz music often played over his radical poems tackling social issues on poverty and drugs in lower income neighborhoods. Remembered more for his widely known Poem “the Revolution will not be televised” Gil Scott other poems “Whitey on the Moon” And Winter in America” with his deep baritone voice would sink deep into social questions on Health care and how government money was disproportionally spent in lower income areas while government spent the funds else wear. Gil Scott has been credited for influencing many rappers and musicians of today.

You will not be able to stay home, brother

You will not be able to plug in, turn on and cop out

You will not be able to lose yourself on skag

And skip out for beer during commercials, because

The revolution will not be televised” Gil Scott Heron

Gwendolyn Brooks

Gwendolyn Brooks was a woman of many firsts. She was not only the first African American to win Pulitzer Prize for Poetry; she was the first woman of color to do so was well. Gwendolyn published her first poem at a young age and continued to do so throughout her life. She remained a student of her craft and mentored other youngAfrican American poets into late in her life. She saw her work no different from otherpoets of her time and many critics believed the same, awarding Mrs. Brooks with many literary accolades. Her critically acclaimed “Annie Allen” was a verse-chronicled tale of an ordinary girl growing up in Southside of Chicago.
“Do not desire to fit in; Desire to oblige yourself to lead” – Gwendolyn Brooks