Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Mother Emanuel

I am Mother Emanuel.
Listen, can you hear my bells ring?
Nine times in remembrance of June 17th.
I recall Charleston, 1818
my members arrested
for reading,
we felt each lash of that beating.

I am Mother Emanuel, AME, 1822
the trees outside hang heavy
from tax white lies levy.
Prisoners weigh more than
winter’s ice and snow.
Lives as punishment for
each slave revolt.

Later that spring, I go down in flames
as angry white faces
create a fiery circle of hate
outside my charred
black doors.

I am Mother Emanuel.
No building, no chairs,
believers meeting, secret prayers
against hate and bigotry
in a land that only claims
to be free.

They rebuilt me on the north side
of Calhoun, a boundary street.
People of color unwelcome
on the other side.
Black steeple like a flag of pride.

I remember Watchnight
Service, 2012, New Year’s Eve
150 years after
the Emancipation Proclamation
surely this must be a new nation.
I wanted to believe
parades of love and pride,
but this wasn’t the changing
of the tide.

I am Mother Emanuel
Listen, can you hear my bells ring?
Nine times in remembrance of June 17th.
A roach of Rhodesian rage
gave us all something to pray about.
Nine souls
in bondage to the whims
of white supremacy,
guilty of nothing
but praying while black.

I am Mother Emanuel
Today, my message is clear,
“I will tear down the wall
(of prejudice)
covered with whitewash,
level it to the ground
so that its foundation will be laid bare.”
Ezekiel 13:14

Requiem for Mother Emanuel #9 By Leo Twiggs

This poem is told from the perspective of the African Methodist Episcopal Church located in Charleston, South Carolina. It is the oldest church of the the AME, which is the first independent Black Christian denomination in the United States. What its constituents have endured inspired me to pen this verse.


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