Home  »  The Book of American Negro Poetry  »  Tuskegee

James Weldon Johnson, ed. (1871–1938). The Book of American Negro Poetry. 1922.


WHEREFORE this busy labor without rest?

Is it an idle dream to which we cling,

Here where a thousand dusky toilers sing

Unto the world their hope? “Build we our best.

By hand and thought,” they cry, “although unblessed.”

So the great engines throb, and anvils ring,

And so the thought is wedded to the thing;

But what shall be the end, and what the test?

Dear God, we dare not answer, we can see

Not many steps ahead, but this we know—

If all our toilsome building is in vain,

Availing not to set our manhood free,

If envious hate roots out the seed we sow,

The South will wear eternally a stain.