In The Matter Of Two Men
One does such work as one will not,
And well each knows the right;
Though the white storm howls, or the sun is hot,
The black must serve the white.
And it’s, oh, for the white man’s softening flesh,
While the black man’s muscles grow!
Well I know which grows the mightier,
I know; full well I know.
The white man seeks the soft, fat place,
And he moves and he works by rule.
Ingenious grows the humbler race
In Oppression’s prodding school.
And it’s, oh, for a white man gone to seed,
While the Negro struggles so!
And I know which race develops most,
I know; yes, well I know.
The white man rides in a palace car,
And the Negro rides “Jim Crow”
To damn the other with bolt and bar,
One creepeth so low; so low!
And it’s, oh, for a master’s nose in the mire,
While the humbled hearts o’erflow!
Well I know whose soul grows big at this,
And whose grows small; I know!
The white man leases out his land,
And the Negro tills the same.
One works; one loafs and takes command;
But I know who wins the game!
And it’s, oh, for the white man’s shrinking soil.
As the black’s rich acres grow!
Well I know how the signs point out at last,
I know; ah, well I know!
The white man votes for his color’s sake.
While the black, for his is barred;
(Though “ignorance” is the charge they make),
But the black man studies hard.
And it’s, oh, for the white man’s sad neglect,
For the power of his light let go!
So, I know which man must win at last,
I know! Ah, Friend, I know!
From The Book of American Negro Poetry (Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1922), edited by James Weldon Johnson. This poem is in the public domain.