The Black Christ

Selected by Michael Fitzpatrick

Illustration by Countee Cullen’s brother Charles.

Countee Cullen (1903–1946)

The Black Christ

God’s glory and my country’s shame,
And how one man who cursed Christ’s name
May never fully expiate
That crime till at the Blessed Gate
Of Heaven He meet and pardon me
Out of His love and charity;
How God, who needs no man’s applause,
For love of my stark soul, of flaws
Composed, seeing it slip, did stoop
Down to the mire and pick me up,
And in the hollow of His hand
Enact again at my command
The world’s supremest tragedy,
Until I die my burthen be;
How Calvary in Palestine,
Extending down to me and mine,
Was but the first leaf in a line
Of trees on which a Man should swing
World without end, in suffering
For all men’s healing, let me sing.

Countee Cullen was one of the leading poets and intellectuals of the Harlem Renaissance. Cullen’s poetry drew connections between the suffering of the crucified Christ and the suffering of African Americans from racial violence in the 1920’s. His first marriage was to Yolande Du Bois, daughter of W. E. B. Du Bois. Cullen was a close friend of jazz artist Duke Ellington and poet Langston Hughes.

Michael Fitzpatrick welcomes comments and questions via m.c.fitzpatrick@outlook.com

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