I. Audre Lorde, Adrienne Rich, Alice Walker, Statement presented by Adrienne Rich at National Book Awards, 1974
The statement I am going to read was prepared by three of the women nominated for the National Book Award for poetry, with the agreement that it would be read by whichever of us, if any, was chosen.
We, Audre Lorde, Adrienne Rich, and Alice Walker, together accept this award in the name of all the women whose voices have gone and still go unheard in a patriarchal world, and in the name of those who, like us, have been tolerated as token women in this culture, often at great cost and in great pain. We believe that we can enrich ourselves more in supporting and giving to each other than by competing against each other; and that poetry— if it is poetry— exists in a realm beyond ranking and comparison. We symbolically join together here in refusing the terms of patriarchal competition and declaring that we will share this prize among us, to be used as best we can for women. We appreciate the good faith of the judges for this award, but none of us could accept this money for herself, nor could she let go unquestioned the terms on which poets are given or denied honor and livelihood in this world, especially when they are women. We dedicate this occasion to the struggle for self-determination of all women, of every color, identification, or derived class: the poet, the housewife, the lesbian, the mathematician, the mother, the dishwasher, the pregnant teenager, the teacher, the grandmother, the prostitute, the philosopher, the waitress, the women who will understand what we are doing here and those who will not understand yet; the silent women whose voice have been denied us, the articulate women who have given us strength to do our work.
2.Tommie Smith and John Carlos, in Salute, Olympics, 1968
3. from Lillian Smith, Killers of the Dream, 1949
"Perhaps the first deep chasm in our Western culture was dug, the first separation made, long ago, when the church officially proclaimed asceticism the "superior" life. Perhaps it was this degradation of the human body, this segregation of inferior flesh from superior soul, this splitting of sacred from profane love---weakening love until it is no match for hate---that was the primal schizophrenic act that set the strange pattern which has caught up with the Western world now in the strange pattern of what sometimes seems a dance of death..."
4. Nikky Finney, Acceptance Speech at National Book Awards, 2011
One: We begin with history. The slave codes of South Carolina, 1739.
A fine of $100 and 6 months in prison would be imposed for anyone found teaching a slave to read or write, and death is the penalty for circulating any incendiary literature.
The ones who longed to read and write but were forbidden, who lost hands and feet, were killed by laws written by men who believed they owned other men. Words devoted to quelling freedom, insurgency, imagination, all hope. What about the possibility of one day making a poem? The king’s mouth and the queen’s tongue, arranged to perfection on the most beautiful paper, sealed with wax and palmetto, tree sap, determined to control what can never be controlled – the will of the human heart to speak its own mind.
Tonight, these forbidden ones move around the room as they please, they sit at whatever table they want, wear camel-colored field hats and tomato-red kerchiefs. They are bold in their Sunday-go-to-meeting best, their cotton croaker sack shirts are black wash pot clean and irreverently not tucked in. Some even have come in white Victorian collars and bustiers. Some have just climbed out of the cold, wet Atlantic just to be here. We shiver together.
If my name is ever called out, I promised my girl poet self, so too would I call out theirs.
Parneshia Jones, Marianne Jankowski, Northwestern University Press. This moment has everything to do with how serious, how gorgeous you do what you do.
A.J. Verdelle, editor-partner in this language life, you taught me that repetition is holy, courage can be a daughter’s name, and two is stronger than one.
Papa, chief opponent of the death penalty in South Carolina for fifty years, fifty-seven years married to the same Newberry girl, when I was a girl, you bought every incendiary dictionary, encyclopedia, and black history tome that ever knocked on our Oakland Avenue door.
Mama, dear Mama, Newberry girl fifty-seven years married to the same Smithfield boy, you made Christmas, Thanksgiving and birthdays out of foil, lace, cardboard, papier-maché, insisting beauty into our deeply segregated, Southern days.
Adrienne Rich, Bruce Smith, Yusef Komunyakaa, Carl Phillips, simply to be in your finalist company is to brightly burn.
National Book Foundation and National Book Award judges, there were special high school English teachers who would read and announce the highly anticipated annual report, even as it was stowed way down deep in some dusty corner of our tiny, Southern newspaper.
Dr. Gloria Wade Gayles, great and best teacher of my life. You asked me on a Friday, 4 o’clock, 1977, I was nineteen and sitting on a Talladega College wall, dreaming about the only life I ever wanted, that of a poet. “Ms. Finney,” you said, “Do you really have time to sit there? Have you finished reading every book in the library?” Dr. Katie Cannon, what I heard you say once haunts every poem that I write. “Black people,” you said, “were the only people in the United States ever explicitly forbidden to become literate.”
I am now, officially, speechless.
5. Kirani James and Oscar Pestorious, Exchanging Jerseys, Olympics, 2012
6. from Edward Ball's Slaves in the Family, 1998
“When I saw the document with that X, with Bright Ma’s [ancestor, who was a slave] signature, I felt I’d brushed up against something,” she said.
Charlotte made a wave motion with her body, bumping the chair. “I felt I’d hit the past."
"It was not a chilling feeling. It was more a feeling of awe, a kind of presence. Praise the Lord. Let it be. Amen.”
7. Order by the Commander of the Military Division of the Mississippi, 1865
IN THE FIELD, SAVANNAH, GA., January 16th, 1865.
SPECIAL FIELD ORDERS, No. 15.
I. The islands from Charleston, south, the abandoned rice fields along the rivers for thirty miles back from the sea, and the country bordering the St. Johns river, Florida, are reserved and set apart for the settlement of the negroes now made free by the acts of war and the proclamation of the President of the United States.
II. At Beaufort, Hilton Head, Savannah, Fernandina, St. Augustine and Jacksonville, the blacks may remain in their chosen or accustomed vocations–but on the islands, and in the settlements hereafter to be established, no white person whatever, unless military officers and soldiers detailed for duty, will be permitted to reside; and the sole and exclusive management of affairs will be left to the freed people themselves, subject only to the United States military authority and the acts of Congress. By the laws of war, and orders of the President of the United States, the negro is free and must be dealt with as such. He cannot be subjected to conscription or forced military service, save by the written orders of the highest military authority of the Department, under such regulations as the President or Congress may prescribe. Domestic servants, blacksmiths, carpenters and other mechanics, will be free to select their own work and residence, but the young and able-bodied negroes must be encouraged to enlist as soldiers in the service of the United States, to contribute their share towards maintaining their own freedom, and securing their rights as citizens of the United States.
Negroes so enlisted will be organized into companies, battalions and regiments, under the orders of the United States military authorities, and will be paid, fed and clothed according to law. The bounties paid on enlistment may, with the consent of the recruit, go to assist his family and settlement in procuring agricultural implements, seed, tools, boots, clothing, and other articles necessary for their livelihood.
III. Whenever three respectable negroes, heads of families, shall desire to settle on land, and shall have selected for that purpose an island or a locality clearly defined, within the limits above designated, the Inspector of Settlements and Plantations will himself, or by such subordinate officer as he may appoint, give them a license to settle such island or district, and afford them such assistance as he can to enable them to establish a peaceable agricultural settlement. The three parties named will subdivide the land, under the supervision of the Inspector, among themselves and such others as may choose to settle near them, so that each family shall have a plot of not more than (40) forty acres of tillable ground, and when it borders on some water channel, with not more than 800 feet water front, in the possession of which land the military authorities will afford them protection, until such time as they can protect themselves, or until Congress shall regulate their title. The Quartermaster may, on the requisition of the Inspector of Settlements and Plantations, place at the disposal of the Inspector, one or more of the captured steamers, to ply between the settlements and one or more of the commercial points heretofore named in orders, to afford the settlers the opportunity to supply their necessary wants, and to sell the products of their land and labor.
IV. Whenever a negro has enlisted in the military service of the United States, he may locate his family in any one of the settlements at pleasure, and acquire a homestead, and all other rights and privileges of a settler, as though present in person. In like manner, negroes may settle their families and engage on board the gunboats, or in fishing, or in the navigation of the inland waters, without losing any claim to land or other advantages derived from this system. But no one, unless an actual settler as above defined, or unless absent on Government service, will be entitled to claim any right to land or property in any settlement by virtue of these orders.
V. In order to carry out this system of settlement, a general officer will be detailed as Inspector of Settlements and Plantations, whose duty it shall be to visit the settlements, to regulate their police and general management, and who will furnish personally to each head of a family, subject to the approval of the President of the United States, a possessory title in writing, giving as near as possible the description of boundaries; and who shall adjust all claims or conflicts that may arise under the same, subject to the like approval, treating such titles altogether as possessory. The same general officer will also be charged with the enlistment and organization of the negro recruits, and protecting their interests while absent from their settlements; and will be governed by the rules and regulations prescribed by the War Department for such purposes.
VI. Brigadier General R. SAXTON is hereby appointed Inspector of Settlements and Plantations, and will at once enter on the performance of his duties. No change is intended or desired in the settlement now on Beaufort [Port Royal] Island, nor will any rights to property heretofore acquired be affected thereby.
BY ORDER OF MAJOR GENERAL W. T. SHERMAN: