If We Must Die
If we must die, let it not be like hogs
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,
While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,
Making their mock at our accursèd lot.
If we must die, O let us nobly die,
So that our precious blood may not be shed
In vain; then even the monsters we defy
Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!
O kinsmen! we must meet the common foe!
Though far outnumbered let us show us brave,
And for their thousand blows deal one death-blow!
What though before us lies the open grave?
Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!
Claude McKay was a key figure during the Harlem Renaissance, a prominent literary movement of the 1920s.
Festus Claudius McKay was born in Sunny Ville, Clarendon Parish, Jamaica, on September 15, 1889. His mother and father spoke proudly of their respective Malagasy and Ashanti heritage. McKay blended his African pride with his love of British poetry.
After a London publishing house produced McKay’s first books of verse, Songs of Jamaica and Constab Ballads, in 1912, he used the award money received from the Jamaican Institute of Arts and Sciences to move to the United States. Once in the United States, McKay studied at the Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University) and Kansas State College for a total of two years. In 1914, he moved to New York City, settling in Harlem, where he became a big part of the Harlem Renaissance.
His work ranged from vernacular verse celebrating peasant life in Jamaica to poems challenging white authority in America, and from generally straightforward tales of black life in both Jamaica and America to more philosophically ambitious fiction addressing instinctual/intellectual duality, which McKay found central to the black individual’s efforts to cope in a racist society.
McKay is best known for his novels, essays and poems, including “If We Must Die” and “Harlem Shadows.” He died on May 22, 1948, in Chicago, Illinois.