Kids Who Die and Other Tragedies

Monday was a day that many of us trolled Facebook and the news, looking for response?understanding?solace?connection?to the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the Trayvon Martin case. I didn’t vociferously follow the case, though bits of it kept piquing my interest–like the young woman who had been on the phone with Martin when he was shot, who was called as a witness and whose language might be called non-standard. That fascinated me: that a woman who might have information to implicate Zimmerman didn’t use the “right” words (I know there were other problems with her testimony, but her language was what fascinated me).

Here’s a silver lining to a depressing ending in a depressing case: when these national tragedies happen, some beautiful writing arrives. A friend posted on Facebook this evocative blog post, “Dear America, It’s Not You. It’s Me,” which made me remember that great Mark Twain quote: “Loyalty to the country always. Loyalty to the government when it deserves it.”

And many, many people are posting the fine poet Langston Hughes’s poem “Kids Who Die,” which I’ll share below.


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)