"KIDS WHO DIE" - A POEM BY LANGSTON HUGHES

This is for the kids who die,
Black and white,
For kids will die certainly.
The old and rich will live on awhile,
As always,
Eating blood and gold,
Letting kids die.

Kids will die in the swamps of Mississippi
Organizing sharecroppers
Kids will die in the streets of Chicago
Organizing workers
Kids will die in the orange groves of California
Telling others to get together
Whites and Filipinos,
Negroes and Mexicans,
All kinds of kids will die
Who don’t believe in lies, and bribes, and contentment
And a lousy peace.

Of course, the wise and the learned
Who pen editorials in the papers,
And the gentlemen with Dr. in front of their names
White and black,
Who make surveys and write books
Will live on weaving words to smother the kids who die,
And the sleazy courts,
And the bribe-reaching police,
And the blood-loving generals,
And the money-loving preachers
Will all raise their hands against the kids who die,
Beating them with laws and clubs and bayonets and bullets
To frighten the people—
For the kids who die are like iron in the blood of the people—
And the old and rich don’t want the people
To taste the iron of the kids who die,
Don’t want the people to get wise to their own power,
To believe an Angelo Herndon, or even get together

Listen, kids who die—
Maybe, now, there will be no monument for you
Except in our hearts
Maybe your bodies’ll be lost in a swamp
Or a prison grave, or the potter’s field,
Or the rivers where you’re drowned like Leibknecht

But the day will come—
You are sure yourselves that it is coming—
When the marching feet of the masses
Will raise for you a living monument of love,
And joy, and laughter,
And black hands and white hands clasped as one,
And a song that reaches the sky—
The song of the life triumphant
Through the kids who die.
(Langston Hughes)

This powerful poem published recently in memoriam to Trayvon Martin (5 February 1995- 26 February 2012) is historic, contemporary, and sadly timeless. It got me thinking about my friend Ross Evans.

I first met Langston Hughes’ poetry through my friend Dr. Ross Evans in the late 1960’s when he was the first black professor at Teachers College, Columbia University.

Ross named his first child Langston. Langston was born a few years after my first child, Simon was born. By the time Langston came along, Ross had been teaching Simon hambone for a while.

Ross was from Kansas. He told me about lying on the floor of a car when he, with other college kids rode through white neighborhoods with white girls on board. He rode with death looking over his shoulder for much of his life. At Teacher’s College it was not unusual for Ross to be rousted out of his office my security guards who didn’t know there was such a thing as a Black professor of psychology.
Ross studied abnormal psychology (he had lived in its thrall for years after all). He was a scientist, did experimental research, was always deep in the findings of other people’s research. He argued that only about 1% of any child population was organically impaired. The vast failure of kids in schools was the result of poverty and racism. Poverty destroyed confidence in learning and racism destroyed confidence in living. To overcome those challenges was his mission.

Ross’s favorite song was “Bridge over Troubled Waters.” (“Like a bridge over troubled waters/I will lay me down”). We thought it was, in 1968, a human breakthrough that we each would “Lay me Down” for each other. 

-Colin Greer