If We Must Die

— Claude McKay

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 accursed lot.
If we must die — oh, 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!
Oh, Kinsmen! We must meet the common foe;
Though far outnumbered, let us show us brave,
And for their thousand blows deal one deathblow!
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!

Written at the height of the 1919 “Red Summer,” Claude McKay’s sonnet with its call to armed self-defense reflected the growing militant sentiment of the period and was widely reproduced in the Black press nationwide.

January/February 2015, ATC 174

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