African American poet Naomi Long Madgett has just died at 97. Her poem “Midway,” published in 1959 when the Civil Rights movement was heating up, inspired many.
I can imagine this past summer’s Black Lives Matter marchers thrilling to the poem, with its bouncy rhythm. Note how you first have to speed up the tempo in many of the lines, only to slow down in the second half in a way that emphasizes the message “I’ve come this far to freedom and I won’t turn back,” she begins, while concluding, “Mighty mountains loom before me and I won’t stop now.”
If you want a lift, chant it out loud. And don’t stop now.
I’ve come this far to freedom and I won’t turn back
I’m climbing to the highway from my old dirt track
I’m coming and I’m going
And I’m stretching and I’m growing
And I’ll reap what I’ve been sowing or my skin’s not black
I’ve prayed and slaved and waited and I’ve sung my song
You’ve bled me and you’ve starved me but I’ve still grown strong
You’ve lashed me and you’ve treed me
And you’ve everything but freed me
But in time you’ll know you need me and it won’t be long.
I’ve seen the daylight breaking high above the bough
I’ve found my destination and I’ve made my vow;
So whether you abhor me
Or deride me or ignore me
Mighty mountains loom before me and I won’t stop now.