“...The straitjackets of race prejudice and discrimination do not wear only southern labels. The subtle, psychological technique of the North has approached in its ugliness and victimization of the Negro the outright terror and open brutality of the South.”
            ― Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Why We Can't Wait (Beacon Press, 2011)

                      this       here       the      cradle      of      this      here
                      nation—everywhere  you   look,  roots   run   right
                      back  south.  every  vein filled with red dirt, blood,
                      cotton.   we   the   dirty  word  you  spit  out   your
                      mouth.  mason  dixon  is  an  imagined  line—you
                      can  theorize  it, or wish it real, but  it’s  the  same
                      old  ghost—see-through,   benign.   all   y’all  from
                      alabama;  we  the wheel  turning  cotton  to make
                      the nation move. we the scapegoat in a land built
                      from death. no longitude or latitude disproves
                      the truth of founding fathers’ sacred oath:
                                 we hold these truths like dark snuff in our jaw,
                                 Black oppression’s not happenstance; it’s law.


Copyright © 2020 by Ashley M. Jones. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 17, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“I was born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama, and this is where I’ve chosen to live for what I hope is the long haul. My whole life, I’ve heard people talk about the Deep South as a place of extreme backwardsness, of hatred, or as a place dripping in untouchable shame. But what I’ve learned, and what becomes clearer each day, is that this place is only a mirror for the other forty-nine states: what happens here happens in every corner of America, and the practices for which we’re blamed have roots all the way down to the founding fathers, whose goals were exclusionary and oppressive at best. I always joke that everyone I meet somehow has ties to Alabama—a forgotten cousin, a far-gone ancestor, but it’s really true—the South and the American terror of slavery made way for the building of this nation, and any horror here has its Northern, Western, Midwestern, Upper East Coast twin. This sonnet illustrates that dark truth.”
Ashley M. Jones