Poet Sterling A. Brown’s, “Strong Men”

1 Posted by - September 29, 2023 - BLACK MEN, History, LATEST POSTS

Strong Men

They dragged you from the homeland, They chained you in coffles,
They huddled you spoon-fashion in filthy hatches,
They sold you to give a few gentlemen ease.

They broke you in like oxen, They scourged you, They branded you,
They made your women breeders, They swelled your numbers with bastards..
They taught you the religion they disgraced.

You sang:
Keep a-inchin’ along
Lak a po’ inch worm…

You sang:
By and Bye
I’m gonna lay down this heaby load…

You sang:
Walk togedder, chillen,
Dontcha git weary…
The strong men keep a-comin’ on
The strong men get stronger.

They point with pride to the roads you built for them,
They ride in comfort over the rails you laid for them.
They put hammers in your hands
And said-Drive so much before sundown.

You sang:
Ain’t no hammah
In dis lan’
Strikes lak mine, bebby,
Stikes lak mine.

They copped you in their kitchens,
They penned you in their factories,
They gave you the jobs that they were too good for,
They tried to guarantee happiness to themselves
By shunting dirt and misery to you….

You sang:
Me an’ muh baby gonna shine, shine
Me an’ muh baby gonna shine.
The strong men keep a-comin’ on
The strong men git stronger. . . .

They bought off some of your leaders
You stumbled, as blind men will. . . .
They coaxed you, unwontedly soft-voiced. . . .
You followed a way.
Then laughed as usual.
They heard the laugh and wondered;
Unadmitting a deeper terror. . . .
The strong men keep a-comin’ on
Gittin’ stronger. . . .

What, from the slums
Where they have hemmed you
What, from the tiny huts
They could not keep from you –
What reaches them
Making them ill at ease, fearful?
Today they shout prohibition at you
“Thou shalt not this.”
“Thou shalt not that.”
“Reserved for whites only”
You laugh.

One thing they cannot prohibit –
The strong men . . . coming on
The strong’ men gittin’ stronger.
Strong men. . . .
Stronger. . . .


Sterling A. Brown’s poetry was influenced by jazz, the blues, work songs and spirituals and, like Langston Hughes, Jean Toomer, Countee Cullen, and other black poets of the period, his writing expresses his concerns about race in America.

Brown was born in Washington, D.C., in 1901. He graduated from Dunbar High School and went on to receive a bachelor’s degree from Williams College.  In 1923, he earned a master’s degree from Harvard University and was employed as a teacher at the Virginia Seminary and College in Lynchburg until 1926. Three years later, Brown began teaching at Howard University and in 1932 his first book, Southern Road, was published. He also served a visiting professor at several other notable institutions, including Vassar College, New York University (NYU), Atlanta University, and Yale University.

In 1932, Brown published his first book of poetry Southern Road. It was a collection of poems with rural themes and treated the simple lives of poor, black, country folk with extra poignancy and dignity. It also used authentic dialect and structures. Despite the success of this book, he struggled to find a publisher for the followup, No Hiding Place. Brown was most known for his authentic southern black dialect. Brown died on January 13, 1989.





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