Friday, May 23, 2014

Poem about Barbara Johns, Civil Rights Hero

Hello, and happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Violet Nesdoly for Roundup.

What a busy week! Kids finished up school, I'm dog-sitting, we're in the final days of our old family business before closing our doors and moving on to the next, new chapter... and I put out an email newsletter! (What? Not on my newsletter list? Email me: to subscribe.)

I've got several poetry books in the queue to share with all of you, but today I want to share a poem I wrote for Scope magazine about Barbara Johns.

I knew nothing about Barbara when I was asked to write this poem, and now I can't learn enough about her! She was a pretty amazing young woman. Read all about her in the most recent edition of YES!, which happens to be one of my favorite magazines. Brown vs. Board of Education probably wouldn't have happened when it did if not for Barbara's leadership in a high school walk out and other efforts. Here's the poem:

Barbara Johns Reaches for the Moon

She steps onto the stage,
makes a bold declaration,


Without hesitation,
she illuminates the situation--

separate but not equal:
cracked toilets, smoke inhalation,

tar-paper shacks packed
with the student population.

Despite danger, despite trepidation,
she clings to the dream with determination,

joins the fight for integration.
Together they march

like constellations
across a midnight sky,

their combined shine inspiration
for a changing nation.

- Irene Latham


  1. "like constellations/across a midnight sky" - lovely, Irene. I'm glad to see in many places that little known heroes are being celebrated in poems and books recently. Thanks for sharing about Barbara Johns.

    1. Yes! Nice to see important contributions recognized. There are always more people involved than are given credit! Thanks for visiting. xo

  2. After I read your poem, I read this: which is particularly fascinating to me because my dad is from Farmville, VA. He was four years old when Barbara led her strike.

    1. Oh, cool, a family connection! Thank you for the link, Tabatha. xo

  3. All those wonderful -ation words, your lovely voice proclaiming them. Congratulations on having your poem featured in Scope. You are a hero too.

    1. Margaret, those -ation words were a challenge! Thanks so much for your kind words and for stopping by. xo

  4. Great poem! All those "...ation' rhymes drive the message home with elegance yet power. I enjoyed your reading of it.

    Violet N.

    1. Thank you, Violet - elegance and power are exactly what Barbara Johns deserves! Happy day to you.xo

  5. I like all the different things you do with this poem (simile, couplets, how you placed No Now Strike). That encourages budding poets to think outside one format. Hope that makes sense.

    Have you read The Girl from the Tar Paper School? That's how I first learned about Barbara Johns.

    1. Jeff, I have NOT read The Girl from the Tar Paper School and will now! Thank you. And yes, what a gift to students to know everything doesn't have to be pit-pat... the element of surprise is probably the thing that most draws me to poetry. Thanks so much for your work with young writers!

  6. The last stanza really brings the whole poem home!

  7. The ending of your poem gave me chills, Irene. You capture the quality of her profound determination so well.


Your thoughts?