Most things are colorful things – they sky, earth and sea.
Black men are most men; but the white are free!
White things are rare things; so rare, so rare
They stole from out a silvered world—somewhere.
Finding earth-plains fair plains, save greenly grassed,
They strewed white feathers of cowardice, as they passed
They golden stars with lances fine
The hills all red and darkened pine,
They blanched with their wand of power;
And turned the blood in a ruby rose
To a poor white poppy-flower.
They pyred a race of black, black men,
Laughing, A young one claimed a skull,
For the skull of a black is white, not dull,
But a glistening awful thing;
Made, it seems, for this ghoul to swing
And swear by the hell that sired him:
“Man-maker, make white!
– Anne Bethel Spencer
Anne Bethel Scales Bannister Spencer was a Harlem Renaissance poet and activist.
Spencer was born on a Virginia farm in 1882. The daughter of former slaves, Spencer’s mother enrolled her in school for the first time when she was 11, at the Virginia Theological Seminary and College (now Virginia University of Lynchburg). Spencer graduated six years later as class valedictorian.
Though Spencer lived in Virginia her whole life, she maintained close friendships with many Harlem Renaissance writers, including James Weldon Johnson, Langston Hughes, and W.E.B. Du Bois. She worked with Johnson and others to establish the Lynchburg chapter of the NAACP and served for 20 years as the librarian for Dunbar High School.
Her poetry engages themes of religion, race, and the natural world. Thirty of her poems were published during her lifetime, in such anthologies as The Book of American Negro Poetry (1922) and Caroling Dusk (1927). She was the first African American woman poet to be featured in the Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry (1973). Spencer died of cancer at the age of 93.