The Power of Voice: Celebrating African American History

Celebrating African American History through Poetry

“Your silence will not protect you.” – Audre Lorde

February is National African American History Month in the United States. It is a time to honor the work, achievements and contributions of African Americans. It is also a time to remember the struggle for civil rights and the importance of equality, civic action, social justice and solidarity.

In our Jan/Feb edition of Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western Massachusetts we discussed the power of voice and words as illustrated by Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Continuing this exploration of the inspirational power of words, let’s take a closer look at two poems by African Americans that illustrate the power of voice and words: Langston Hughes and Audre Lorde. 

Audre Lorde (1934-1992)

Feminist, civil rights activist, and writer Audre Lorde is known for her poetic exploration of Black feminist identity.  The poem “A Woman Speaks” is another example of how the power of voice explodes in poetic verse and demands the reader to pay attention and consider what is written

Langston Hughes (1902-1967)

This month, we are revisiting poet Langston Hughes. In the Nov/Dec 2016 edition of Learning Ahead we featured Hughes’ poem “Thanksgiving Time.”  In this edition we are featuring his poem, “I, Too.”

Hughes was a poet of the Harlem Renaissance, an explosion of social, cultural  and artistic ideas that brought together black writers, artists, musicians, and  scholars in the 1920’s and 1930’s. It brought to the forefront a new black cultural identity. Its cultural center was Harlem, a neighborhood of New York City. Langston Hughes was at the heart of the Harlem Renaissance and his poetry stands as a testament to this movement of creativity, philosophy and powerful voice.

Think about this:

  • How does Audre Lorde assert the power of Black women through their femininity?
  • Notice how Lorde’s poem builds to the final stanza in which history and mysticism/magic become intertwined to assert the powerful presence of Black women.  How does this poem convey the power of their voice? What is Lorde’s intention with the last stanza and what does she hope to convey to the reader?
  • How does Langston Hughes use the image of eating in the kitchen vs. at the table in his poem “I, Too” to talk about the importance of civil rights almost 30 years before King delivers his “I Have a Dream” speech?
  • “I, too, am America” is a powerful phrase. What does Hughes convey in this phrase about social justice and equality?
  • How do you think a poem like “I, Too” may have been influential in the shaping of the civil rights movement in the 1960’s?

[Photo credit: Women’s March in Washington Sister Rally in Greenfield, MA. (c) Sienna Wildfield]


Download our Jan/Feb edition of Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western Massachusetts for embedded learning opportunities found in cultural resources that exist within the geography, history, and cultural traditions of Western Massachusetts.

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