ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes


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The years go back with an iron clank, / a hand is on the gate,

a dry leaf trembles on the wall. / Ghosts are walking.

They have broken roses down / and poplars stand there still as death.



Books by  Arna Bontemps

God Sends Sunday: Novel Black Thunder, Gabriel's Revolt: Virginia, 1800  / Anyplace But Here The Harlem Renaissance Remembered

The Poetry of the Negro, 1746-1949  /  Bontemps, American Negro Poetry  /  Arna Bontemps-Langston Hughes Letters, 1925-1967

 The Old South;: "A summer tragedy" and other stories of the thirties / The Story of the Jubilee Singers  / Great Slave Narratives

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Southern Mansion & Other Poems

By Arna Bontemps


Southern Mansion

Poplars are standing there still as death

and ghosts of dead men

meet their ladies walking

two by two beneath the shade

and standing on the marble steps.


There is a sound of music echoing

through the open door

and in the field there is

another sound tinkling in the cotton:

chains of bondsmen dragging on the ground


The years go back with an iron clank,

a hand is on the gate,

a dry leaf trembles on the wall.

Ghosts are walking.

They have broken roses down

and poplars stand there still as death.

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The Day-Breakers

We are not come towage a strife

   With swords upon this hill.

It is not wise to waste the life

   Against a stubborn will.

Yet would we die as some have done,

Beating a way for the rising sun

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Golgotha Is a Mountain

Golgotha is a mountain, a purple mound

Almost out of sight.

One night they hanged two thieves there,

And another man.

Some women wept heavily that night;

Their tears are flowing still. They have made a river;

Once it covered me.

Then the people went away and left Golgotha


Oh, I've seen many mountains:

Pale purple mounting melting in the evening mists and

          blurring on the borders of the sky.

I climbed old Shasta and chilled my hands in its summer


I rested in the shadow of Popocatepetl and it whispered to me

          of death.

And I've seen other mountains rising from the wistful moors

          like the breasts of a slender maiden.

Who knows the mystery of mountains!

Some of them are awful, others are just lonely

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Anyplace But Here  / Arna Wendell Bontemps : A Bibliography

Robert E Fleming.  James Weldon Johnson and Arna Wendell Bontemps: A reference guide. G. K. Hall, 1978

Kirkland C. Jones. Man from Louisiana; A Biography of Arna Wendell Bontemps.. Greenwood Press, 1992.

Sterling Brown "Arna Bontemps: Co-worker, Comrade." Black World 22:11 (September 1973): 92-98.


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Arna Wendell Bontemps (1902-1973)born in Alexandria, Louisiana, the son of Creole parentswas one of the more prolific writers of the Harlem Renaissance. He was the author of over 25 books of poetry, history, biography, fiction and anthologies. Bontemps was a major figure of the Harlem Renaissance. Bontemps served as head librarian at Fisk University from 1969 to 1972.

He was also curator of the James Weldon Johnson Memorial Collection of Negro Arts and Letters at Yale University.  In 1923, Bontemps received his B.A. from Pacific Union College in Angwin. In 1924, his poetry appeared in Crisis magazine, the NACCP periodical edited by Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois.

In 1926 "Golgotha Is a Mountain" won the Alexander Pushkin Award and in 1927 Nocturne at Bethesda achieved first honors in the Crisis poetry contest. Personals, a collection of poetry was published in 1963.

Bontemps then turned to prose. In the decade of the thirties, he wrote three acclaimed novels God Sends Sunday (1931); Black Thunder (1936); and Drums at Dusk (1939). Frustrated in his ability to reach his own generation Bontemps to literature for children and young graders. In 1937 he published the Sad-Faced Boy; and others for  young audience included We Have Tomorrow (1945) Slappy Hopper (1946) and Story of the Negro (1948).

Bontemps was involved in the publication of at least three anthologies: Golden Slippers: An Anthology of Negro Poetry for Young Readers (1941);  with Langston Hughes, The Poetry of the Negro, 1746-1949 (1949);  and Bontemps, American Negro Poetry (1963 & 1974 rev.). Bontemps was gracious enough to include Christian's poems in all his anthologies.

Bontemps' beautiful short story "A Summer Tragedy" is found often in anthologies. It is indeed a treat. His poems "A Black Man Thinks of Reaping," "Southern Mansion," and "Nocturne at Bethesda" are often anthologized. But such poems as "My Heart Has Known Its Winter" and "Day Breakers" are also found in anthologies.

Early in his career Bontemps had wanted to get a Ph.D. in English but with his marriage in 1926 and the coming of six children he had to work. He taught for awhile at an Alabama junior college. With the coming of the Depression he worked for the Illinois WPA and supervised and assisted in the writing of a history of the Negro in Illinois. In 1943 he completed a degree in library science and served as librarian at Fisk University and developed an archive of African American cultural materials that is a major resource for study in this field.

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The Price of Civilization

Reawakening American Virtue and Prosperity

By Jeffrey D. Sachs

The Price of Civilization is a book that is essential reading for every American. In a forceful, impassioned, and personal voice, he offers not only a searing and incisive diagnosis of our country’s economic ills but also an urgent call for Americans to restore the virtues of fairness, honesty, and foresight as the foundations of national prosperity. Sachs finds that both political parties—and many leading economists—have missed the big picture, offering shortsighted solutions such as stimulus spending or tax cuts to address complex economic problems that require deeper solutions. Sachs argues that we have profoundly underestimated globalization’s long-term effects on our country, which create deep and largely unmet challenges with regard to jobs, incomes, poverty, and the environment. America’s single biggest economic failure, Sachs argues, is its inability to come to grips with the new global economic realities. Sachs describes a political system that has lost its ethical moorings, in which ever-rising campaign contributions and lobbying outlays overpower the voice of the citizenry. . . . Sachs offers a plan to turn the crisis around. He argues persuasively that the problem is not America’s abiding values, which remain generous and pragmatic, but the ease with which political spin and consumerism run circles around those values. He bids the reader to reclaim the virtues of good citizenship and mindfulness toward the economy and one another.

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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

By Melissa V. Harris-Perry

According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel.  The selfless Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.     

Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.

As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery

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The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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update  25 February 2012


Home  Langston Hughes Table

Related files: A Black Man Thinks of Reaping   Illinois WPA -- Arna Bontemps  Arna Bontemps Advises Christian on a Rosenwald Fellowship  Arna Bontemps Acknowledges Documents from Christian    Southern Mansion