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        Claude McKay(1889-1948)

                  IF WE MUST DIE

    IF we must dieŚlet it not be like hogs
    Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,
    While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,
    Making their mock at our accursed lot.
    If we must die—oh, let us nobly die,
    So that our precious blood may not be shed
    In vain; then even the monsters we defy
    Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!
    Oh, Kinsmen! We must meet the common foe;
    Though far outnumbered, let us show us brave,
    And for their thousand blows deal one death-blow!
    What though before us lies the open grave?
    Like men we'll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
    Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!

 


The above poem first appeared in The Liberator in 1919 in the wake of that year's large and violent race riots. It was subsequently published in McKay's 1922 collection Harlem Shadows, whose publication Harper and Walton identify as "the inaugural literary event of the Harlem Renaissance". Two decades later, the poem was famously quoted by Winston Churchill in the British House of Commons.

The poem can be found in print in:

  • Johnson, James Weldon, ed. Book of American Negro Poetry, Revised Edition. New York: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1931.
  • Harper, Michael S. and Anthony Walton, eds. The Vintage Book of African American Poetry. New York: Vintage Books, 2000.