Dick Gregory's money is no good here

Week of August 3, 2006

Aug 2, 2006 at 4:00 am
Hey Joe: I've enjoyed your poems lately. Ever written any regarding blacks?

Maya Angelou, New York, New York

I wrote a poem about blacks in 1964 called "The Negro." I got a check for $100 from Dick Gregory Enterprises Inc. for it. On the back, the check said: "For all uses and all rights of a certain poem known as 'The Negroe' of which the payee is the author by way of description but not by way of limitation in a certain book entitled 'The Nigger.' Of which Dick Gregory is the author and Dutton and Company the publisher."

I never cashed that check.

Through all of my life I have followed a trend

Of laws laid down by egotistical men,

Through human structures are basically the same

Pigmentation of my skin has been the blame.

Year after year I have been denied,

But would rather die than lose my pride.

I've been instrumental in enriching this land,

But I'm still considered less than woman and/or man.

When entering to eat in some restaurants,

I've been told to sit in the back.

"It's the owner," I'm told by the waitress, "Your face is black."

Also hotels, I've been told, when in need of sleep,

"I'm very, very sorry, but we're filled this week."

I've been stopped at doors of clubs and confronted by some guards

"This is a private club, sir, you need a membership card."

I have graduated from colleges with a chosen degree

But the chances of getting the job I want is slim after they see Me.

We try to tell other countries we do not discriminate,

But I can't begin to count the years that I've been separate.

I've been accused of unlawful doings, though Innocent I be.

I've been taken from jails, mutilated or left hanging from some Tree.

I've tried to help alleviate this dense jungle of nationality fog

By advocating non-violence only to be bitten by dogs.

On sit-in demonstrations, I'm often thrown in jail.

I feel these are the steps I must take so I won't accept a bail.

While trying to buy a decent home, I found this to be corrupt

That once known I am a "Negro," automatically the price goes up.

And if I choose some school I prefer to attend

If not escorted by the "Federal Guards" I won't be permitted in.

I've been pushed around in every town which is unbearably hard,

But it never once discouraged me from winning Nobel Awards.

I've proven myself in every field once given a chance to,

But still I have to be qualified, because the other facts haven't gotten through.

I've been a credit to this country from the Olympics to here in the Ring.

My feet are full of rhythm and my voice of harmony when I sing

I'm very conscientious and love doing things I feel

In other words, I have to say, I've been an ambassador of Good Will.

In view of this daily and rigorous toil,

I've left my blood on distant soil,

Trying to uphold this so-called "democracy,"

Yet experience all types of hypocrisy.

After passing years this should come to an end.

Let's practice humanity and release downtrodden men

By mending this wrong, we will understand

That Liberty and Justice for all can really exist in this land!

Prince Joe Henry, one of professional baseball's original "clowns," was an all-star infielder for Negro League baseball teams in Memphis, Indianapolis and Detroit throughout the 1950s. But up until the late 1940s, Prince Joe didn't know anything about the Negro Leagues. His knowledge of organized baseball was limited to the Cardinals and Browns games he attended during his preteen years at Sportsman's Park, accompanied by lifelong buddy Eugene "Gene" Crittendon, who could pass for white.

Perhaps Henry's most vivid memory of those games: Upon entry, white ushers would politely escort the boys to a small section of the left-field stands reserved for "Colored." After climbing past several tiers of bleachers, they'd arrive at their stop, rows and rows behind their white counterparts.

Even at a young age, the boys were conscious of the double standard -- and determined to vent their disdain. The opportunity would arise with the urge to urinate. Rather than head for the latrine, the boys would edge their way to the front of the section and let fly. As the liquid foamed its way down the concrete steps toward the white kids, Henry and his pal would ease back and relax, politely rooting for the visiting team to beat the hell out of the Browns or the Cards.

After all, Henry and Crittendon hailed from Brooklyn, Illinois, a small, predominantly black township just east of the Mississippi River. So hospitable were the residents of Brooklyn that they were known to take in a rank stranger, treat him to breakfast, lunch, supper and a night out on the town -- and afterward, if he messed up, treat him to a good ass-whippin'.

Direct questions on any and all topics to [email protected]. If we don't like yours, we'll hit Joe with our own.