Easter-Emancipation 1863-1913 (1913)

Easter-Emancipation 1863-1913 (1913)

I am dead;

Yet somehow, somewhere,

In Time’s weird contradiction, I

May tell of that dread deed, wherewith

I brought to Children of the Moon

Freedom and vast salvation.

I was a woman born

And trod that streaming street

That ebbs and flows from Harlem’s hills

Thro’ caves and canyons limned in light

Down to the twisting sea.

That night of nights

I stood alone and at the End

Until the sudden highway to the Moon,

Golden in splendor,

Became too real to doubt.

Dimly I set foot upon the air;

I fled, I flew, thro’ thrills of light,

With all about, above, below the whirring

Of almighty wings. I found a twilight land

Where, hardly hid, the sun

Sent softly saddened rays of

Red and brown to burn the iron earth

And bathe the snow-white peaks

In mighty splendor.

Black were the men,

Hard haired and silent slow,

Moving as shadows

Bending with face of fear to earthward;

And women there were none.

“Woman, woman, woman!”

I cried in mounting terror.

“Woman and Child!”

And the cry sang back

Thro’ Heaven with the

Whirring of almighty wings.

Wings, wings, endless wings,

Heaven and earth are wings;

Wings that flutter, furl and fold,

Always folding and unfolding,

Ever folding yet again;

Wings, veiling some vast

And veiled face,

In blazing blackness,

Behind the folding and unfolding,

The rolling and unrolling of

Almighty wings!

I saw the black men huddle

Fumed in fear, falling face downward;

Vainly I clutched and clawed,

Dumbly they cringed and cowered,

Moaning in mournful monotone:

O Freedom, O Freedom,

O Freedom over me;

Before I’ll be a slave

I’ll be buried in my grave

And go home to my God

And be free.

It was as angel music

From the dead,

And ever, as they sang,

The winged Thing of wings, filling all Heaven,

Folding and unfolding, and folding yet again,

Tore out their blood and entrails

’Til I screamed in utter terror

And a silence came:

A silence and the wailing of a babe

Then at last I saw and shamed;

I knew how these dumb dark and dusky things

Had given blood and life

To fend the caves of underground

The great black caves of utter night

Where earth lay full of mothers

And their babes.

Little children sobbing in darkness.

Little children crying in silent pain.

Little mothers rocking and groping and struggling,

Digging and delving and groveling

Amid the dying-dead and dead-in-life.

And drip and dripping of warm, wet blood

Far, far beneath the wings.

The folding and unfolding of almighty wings.

I bent with tears and pitying hands

Above these dusky star-eyed children.

Crinkly haired, with sweet-sad baby voices

Pleading low for light and love and living— And I crooned

Little children weeping there,

God shall find thy faces fair;

Guerdon for thy deep distress.

He shall send His tenderness;

For the tripping of thy feet

Make a mystic music sweet

In the darkness of thy hair;

Light and laughter in the air—

Little children weeping there.

God shall find thy faces fair!

I strode above the stricken bleeding men.

The rampart ’ranged against the skies.

And shouted:

“Up I say, build and slay;

Fight face foremost, force a way,

Unloose, unfetter and unbind;

Be men and free.”

Dumbly they shrank

Muttering they pointed toward that peak

Than vastness vaster,

Whereon a darkness brooded,

“Who shall look and live,” they sighed;

And I sensed

The folding and unfolding of almighty wings

Yet did we build of iron, bricks and blood;

We built a day, a year, a thousand years.

Blood was the mortar,blood and tears

And, ah, the Thing, the Thing of wings,

The winged folding wing of Things,

Did furnish much mad mortar

For that tower.

Slow and ever slower rose the towering task

And with it rose the sun.

Until at last on one wild day,

Wind-whirled, cloud-swept and terrible.

I stood beneath the burning shadow

Of the peak.

Beneath the whirring of almighty wings

While downward from my feet

Streamed the long line of dusky faces

And the wail of little children sobbing under


“Freedom!” I cried.

“Freedom!” cried Heaven, Earth and Stars,

And a Voice near-far

Amid the folding and unfolding of Almighty wings

Answered "I am Freedom—

Who sees my face is free—

He and his."

I dared not look;

Downward I glanced on deep bowed heads and closed eyes,

Outward I gazed on flecked and flaming blue—

But ever onward, upward flew

The sobbing of small voices;

Down, down, far down into the night.

Slowly I lifted livid limbs aloft;

Upward I strove:

The Face, the Face;

Onward I reeled:

The Face, the Face!

To Beauty wonderful as sudden death

Or horror horrible as endless life—

Up! Up! the blood-built way

(Shadow grow vaster!

Terror come faster!)

Up! Up to the blazing blackness

Of one veiled face

And endless folding and unfolding,

Rolling and unrolling of Almighty wings:

The last step stood!

The last dim cry of pain

Fluttered across the stars—

And then—

Wings, wings, triumphant wings,

Lifting and lowering, waxing and waning,

Swinging and swaying, twirling and whirling,

Whispering and screaming, streaming and gleaming,

Spreading and sweeping and shading and flaming—

Wings, wings, eternal wings,

’Til the hot red blood Flood fleeing flood,

Thundered thro’ Heaven and mine ears

While all across a purple sky

The last vast pinion

Trembled to unfold.

I rose upon the Mountain of the Moon;

I felt the blazing glory of the Sun.

I heard the Song of Children crying "Free!"

I saw the Face of Freedom—

And I died.

Citation: Du Bois, W.E.B. 1913. “Easter-Emancipation 1863-1913.” The Crisis. 5(6):285–297.