“Integrated School Books” Arpeggio

The Crisis Magazine, June 1967

On the cover, Negro men playing checkers
in the park. Some wear hats, while others wear
waves in their hair. Either way, they’re all clean
and their strategy brims as sharp as their 
suits. Within these pages, they’re playing chess,

protecting future children, as they wear
ties, dress shirts, shined shoes—looking clean
and ready for business or for battle. And their
plan? No longer will textbooks be used as chess
pieces to keep Negro children in check.

Sound familiar? Schools will be pushed to clean
bookshelves of the white-washed lessons of their
past. The NAACP opens minds like games of chess,
and all excuses for hiding a country’s checkered
past will be dismissed. Despite segregation’s wear

and tear from school boards, and the fear of their
white parents, henchmen, bullies—all just chess
pieces, really, but jumping laws like checkers
when life is more complex—books remain where
the mind cannot hide. Either you come clean

and admit your ignorance, or be a pawn on the chess
board of intellect, banning books. They think check-
mate! But when I see Crisis in a library archive where
we still argue to be seen, I lose patience. Kleenex,
please, for Karens clutching their pearls! I pray their

white kids are reading Langston Hughes in a public library: .
But one state over, bookshelves have no Black authors, cleaned
out. Our books remain under attack, Kings in a game of chess.

Copyright © 2024 by A. Van Jordan. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 5, 2024, by the Academy of American Poets.