For My People by Margaret Walker

Claire Jordan and Becky Parker

For My People By Margaret Walker

(1942)

For my people everywhere singing their slave songs repeatedly: their dirges and their ditties and their blues and jubilees, praying their prayers nightly to an unknown god, bending their knees humbly to an unseen power;


For my people lending their strength to the years, to the gone years and the now years and the maybe years, washing ironing cooking scrubbing sewing mending hoeing plowing digging planting pruning patching dragging along never gaining never reaping never knowing and never understanding;


For my playmates in the clay and dust and sand of Alabama backyards playing baptizing and preaching and doctor and jail and soldier and school and mama and cooking and playhouse and concert and store and hair and Miss Choomby and company;


For the cramped bewildered years we went to school to learn to know the reasons why and the answers to and the people who and the places where and the days when, in memory of the bitter hours when we discovered we were black and poor and small and different and nobody cared and nobody wondered and nobody understood;


For the boys and girls who grew in spite of these things to be man and woman, to laugh and dance and sing and play and drink their wine and religion and success, to marry their playmates and bear children and then die of consumption and anemia and lynching;


For my people thronging 47th Street in Chicago and Lenox Avenue in New York and Rampart Street in New Orleans, lost disinherited dispossessed and happy people filling the cabarets and taverns and other people’s pockets and needing bread and shoes and milk and land and money and something—something all our own;

For my people walking blindly spreading joy, losing time being lazy, sleeping when hungry, shouting when burdened, drinking when hopeless, tied, and shackled and tangled among ourselves by the unseen creatures who tower over us omnisciently and laugh;


For my people blundering and groping and floundering in the dark of churches and schools and clubs and societies, associations and councils and committees and conventions, distressed and disturbed and deceived and devoured by money-hungry glory-craving leeches, preyed on by facile force of state and fad and novelty, by false prophet and holy believer


For my people standing staring trying to fashion a better way from confusion, from hypocrisy and misunderstanding, trying to fashion a world that will hold all the people, all the faces, all the adams and eves and their countless generations;


Let a new earth rise. Let another world be born. Let a bloody peace be written in the sky. Let a second generation full of courage issue forth; let a people loving freedom come to growth. Let a beauty full of healing and a strength of final clenching be the pulsing in our spirits and our blood. Let the martial songs be written, let the dirges disappear. Let a race of men now rise and take control.

Analysis

Tonal Analysis

For my people everywhere singing their slave songs repeatedly: their dirges and their ditties and their blues and jubilees, praying their prayers nightly to an unknown god, bending their knees humbly to an unseen power; (SCARED, WHY DOES THIS HAPPEN?)


For my people lending their strength to the years, to the gone years and the now years and the maybe years, washing ironing cooking scrubbing sewing mending hoeing plowing digging planting pruning patching dragging along never gaining never reaping never knowing and never understanding; (INFURIATED, ANGRY, INJUSTICE BEGINS)


For my playmates in the clay and dust and sand of Alabama backyards playing baptizing and preaching and doctor and jail and soldier and school and mama and cooking and playhouse and concert and store and hair and Miss Choomby and company; (REMEMBERING THE PAST, REMINISCENT)


For the cramped bewildered years we went to school to learn to know the reasons why and the answers to and the people who and the places where and the days when, in memory of the bitter hours when we discovered (FRUSTRATED, DREAMS AND HOPES SHATTERED)we were black and poor and small and different and nobody cared and nobody wondered and nobody understood; (ENRAGED, INJUSTICE CONTINUES)


For the boys and girls who grew in spite of these things to be man and woman, to laugh and dance and sing and play and drink their wine and religion and success (HOPEFUL, WISHFUL), to marry their playmates and bear children and then die of consumption and anemia and lynching;


For my people thronging 47th Street in Chicago and Lenox Avenue in New York and Rampart Street in New Orleans, lost disinherited dispossessed (SORRORFUL,ALL HOPE FADED AWAY) and happy people filling the cabarets and taverns and other people’s pockets and needing bread and shoes and milk and land and money and something—something all our own;


For my people walking blindly spreading joy, losing time being lazy, sleeping when hungry, shouting when burdened, drinking when hopeless, tied, and shackled and tangled among ourselves by the unseen creatures who tower over us omnisciently and laugh;


For my people blundering and groping and floundering in the dark of churches and schools and clubs and societies, associations and councils and committees and conventions, distressed and disturbed and deceived and devoured by (ENRAGED, INJUSTICE CONTINUES)money-hungry glory-craving leeches, preyed on by facile force of state and fad and novelty, by false prophet and holy believer; (DISGUSTED, DESCRIBING OPPRESSORS AND WHAT THEY DO)


For my people standing staring trying to fashion a better way from confusion, from hypocrisy and misunderstanding, trying to fashion a world that will hold all the people, all the faces, all the adams and eves and their countless generations; (PLEADING, ASKING FOR A CHANGE)


Let a new earth rise. Let another world be born. Let a bloody peace be written in the sky. Let a second generation full of courage issue forth; let a people loving freedom come to growth. Let a beauty full of healing and a strength of final clenching be the pulsing in our spirits and our blood. Let the martial songs be written, let the dirges disappear. Let a race of men now rise and take control. (ASSERTIVE, DEMANDING A CHANGE)



Unknown Words:

-dirge: a mournful song

-ditty: a short, simple song

-jubilee: a special anniversary or event

-throng: to fill or be present (within a crowd)



When Reciting:

-Try to imagine these words coming from the voice of someone who has been mistreated and misused and who has suffered because of social injustice and because of inequality in our world.


-When reciting, make sure that you are very passionate. Even if you aren't the one suffering, the people in the poem are. Give them voice. Speak as if it's their voice rather than yours; hear their pain and the agony and the heartfelt remorse that they had to live with their entire lives.


-Also, pay attention to the punctuation. For example, in the second stanza, there is no punctuation in between the list of verbs, which, when spoken, should cause build up in your voice, showing frustration and anger.



-Notice how the last stanza doesn't begin with "For my...". This is a representation of a new beginning, a fresh start. Read and speak this joyfully as if you're trying to convince an entire crowd of people to join you for this cause.


-Listen to the video below as you read through the poem; it will give you an idea of how to recite each stanza and how to set up each phrase.

Sonic Analysis

Poetry Out Loud 2009-10 NJ State Finalist Jessica Leigh Anderson


  • In "For My People" by Margaret Walker, the author uses the sound of the words and diction to convey her position and her passion for this subject. Multiple times Walker refers back to African American life when slavery and segregation were very popular.

"...singing their slave songs repeatedly."


"...we discovered we were black and poor and small and different and nobody cared and nobody wondered and nobody understood"

  • Walker repeatedly uses the word "and" to create emphasis, more so than would have been created by just using commas


“…washing ironing cooking scrubbing sewing mending hoeing plowing digging planting pruning patching dragging…” (Walker)

  • This line in the poem has no commas, therefore the words are to be read fluently without pausing. The way the line is written and sounds gives the reader a better understanding of how life was like for Margaret Walker, suggesting that her life never had any "comas" or room for her to slow down and take a break.

"For my people blundering and groping and floundering in the dark..."
  • The words Walker chooses here and the way the speaker says them creates a sense of despair in the reader to where the suffering of the African Americans during this time period is almost tangible.

Thematic Analysis

-connects with those who want to rise up and take control and not be under someone's rule, especially when it's not in their favor


-connects with African Americans or any other suppressed group because addresses the issues and hardship that they had to go through, especially during the time of segregation


-personally connects with those who are frustrated with a discriminatory force


-universally connects with those across the world experiencing injustice and suppression, especially discrimination and racism



Pieces that share the same ideas:

-"The Black Little Boy" by William Blake

-"Kaffir Boy" by Mark Mathabane

-"Ballad of the Black Slave" by Michael Isaac Palmer

Artistic Analysis

  • "In the Ghetto" by Elvis Presely

As the snow flies
On a cold and gray Chicago mornin'
A poor little baby child is born
In the ghetto
And his mama cries
'cause if there's one thing that she don't need
it's another hungry mouth to feed
In the ghetto

People, don't you understand
the child needs a helping hand
or he'll grow to be an angry young man some day
Take a look at you and me,
are we too blind to see,
do we simply turn our heads
and look the other way

Well the world turns
and a hungry little boy with a runny nose
plays in the street as the cold wind blows
In the ghetto

And his hunger burns
so he starts to roam the streets at night
and he learns how to steal
and he learns how to fight
In the ghetto

Then one night in desperation
a young man breaks away
He buys a gun, steals a car,
tries to run, but he don't get far
And his mama cries

As a crowd gathers 'round an angry young man
face down on the street with a gun in his hand
In the ghetto

As her young man dies,
on a cold and gray Chicago mornin',
another little baby child is born
In the ghetto



  • Kaffir Boy by Mark Mathabane
  • The Help