Light of the August Moon

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Chapter 1: 1920s Tough Truckin’

As the Puritans dried up the alcohol

And the influenza virus waned,

As another anniversary of Red summer came around

As Butter Beans and Susie gained Vaudeville fame,

A fever took hold to hit the northbound road,

We packed up everything we owned

To board the Orange Blossom Train

Heading up the Atlantic Coast.

As the stock market rose

And the stock yards grew,

As Henry Ford’s invention

Created jobs for glass, rubber and steel,

As the trap doors of speakeasies

Hid the booze,

Jim Crow buoyed upon the northern lakes

While we caught the Illinois Central or the Dixie Flyer

To Memphis, St. Louis and Chicago.

As the fife and the drum

Found its way to the edgy Delta sound,

As the bo-weevils ate another crop

The tenets were cheated once again

As the Mississippi river caught the echoes

Of Son House and Satchmo,

Highway 61 carried those who couldn’t take the train.

As Texas oil coated the state, the Invisible Empire maintained its terror campaign;

They burned people with acid and castrated men,

Tarred and feathered folks for working together

Demanding fair wages from the cotton field.

Lead Belly and Blind Lemon Jefferson captured tortured spirits by singing the Blues,

Double entendre embodied the lyrics holding raw unedited truth,

So, we pack our gingham clothes with no intention of looking back,

As the Argonaut whistle blows

And the sun radiates in the western sky,

Better days await us

Once we get to the golden pacific coast.

One tortured nickel at a time,

One foot in front of the other,

Coming out of the southland

To elevate our condition of existence

In America.

Weez Here

We shook the southern dust from our feet for the last time,

By foot, mule, train or truck,

Dixie is at our back and a new day is ahead,

Detroit, Chicago, Philadelphia and New York,

We finally made it!

Weez here!

Thank the Lord,

Weez here.

But it don’t feel the same;

All that we’ve ever known is gone,

The warmth of familiar relations,

Sustenance across wide open fields

That swallows the evening sun into the lower forty,

The smell of the wood burning stove


Doesn’t seem quite real just yet,

But, weez here.

Honking horns and loud machines

So many people and so many streets,

Look at all these cars,

Skyscrapers blocking the sun,

Storefront church right next to the bar

Lawd have mercy,

Shoe shine boy asking for a dime,

Evangelist warns us the end of time is near

Undertaker on the ground floor,

Doctor’s office upstairs

Citified folk walk and talk so fast

And always seem to be in such a hurry

I wonder where they going?

It’s hard to understand what to do next,

Hard to understand how.

Every door is shut tight,

Until we get to the Belt, The Bottom or Uptown

With no more to offer than cold water flats,

Kitchenettes or second floor back

But it beats the plantation shack,

And weez here.

Yeah, weez here and it hurts,

We’re put to shame by our own people

Calling us simpleminded and backward,

White folks act like they’re afraid and only speak

When the rent is due or when they’re looking for a nurse, a butler or a maid.

We traded bo-weevils for roaches,

The outhouse for a stopped up toilet,

We traded the farm fresh air

For the funk of a rundown building

And a tower of stairs


weez here.

Slowly lynched,

Packed up on top of one another


Expired tempers pouring blood into the street

Slowly dying,

Losing our grip on this thing called hope


Just to breathe our own air.

We patch together parts of down home that we miss the most;

Our music and food, our song and dance with the best of folks who share and enjoy in what we are longing for

Then, it’s back to,

The Madam’s kitchen,

Mister’s factory

Master’s clean up boy,

But weez here,

Yes, thank you Lawd,

Weez here.

Flapper Girls

The war was over and the stocks were up,

Motor cars were running and jazz music was jumping all across the U.S.A.,

And a new generation was coming of age.

They made a clean break from the old days,

Throwing those values and mores right out the window,

They were no longer midwives and nurses

No longer maids and servants,

But working good paying jobs

Living life on their own terms

And enjoying the pleasure of nighttime fun.

The feminine gait down a Harlem street was the cat’s meow,

The style of dress and flamboyant taste constantly turned heads;

A face full of Berry lipstick and earth tone base

The scent of perfume and long string pearls

The new hairdo was Marcel or curls,

They were fine sisters in high fashion and style

Flapper girls were liberated women for the times.

It didn’t matter if you were in Chicago or New York,

It didn’t matter that the country had gone dry,

It only added to the mystique of the speak easy appeal,

Amidst the company of masculine fondness.

‘Harlem Sweeties’ according to Langston Hughes,

From potato pie bronze to butter cake cream,

Above their silk stocking,

Was the forbidden flask just behind their garter,

Hidden just above the knee.

There was a lot of integrating going on,

Vaudeville and burlesque shows were going strong,

A codified rap on the door got you inside

Where everyone spoke easy,

They Shimmied and Messed Around

To the pop and bounce of the new Rag time sounds,

Trios and quartets kept happy feet busy all night long

Gangsters supplied the thirsty needs of gamblers and dancers,

The Hupmobile was the new General motor ride

And the new drive-in movie was a place for young lovers to hide,

It wasn’t just Saturday night, but a new way to live,

No more lonesome boring days

Of endless domestic work with no pay.

That’s what made the twenties roar,

The party was on and women were free

it was just the beginning of a new way to be,

In America.

Certified U.S.P.

Soothing syrups

Elixirs of opium

Sold to the public

To cure whatever ails,

Prescription free availability

At the drug store or apothecary

Free samples were sent by mail,

Sears catalog featured a syringe and needle for sale.

It came as a cocktail mixed with alcohol

Or a cordial with molasses and sassafras,

It was a woman’s best friend

It promised to quiet agitated children

Calmed the cough from tuberculosis

That at the time was commonly called Consumption.

It was the answer to the toothache

Neuralgia or rheumatic fever,

Just one dose of the magical pain reliever

And all was well,


One should try to go without,

And then a beast arose,

Aches and pains, with moans and shouts

That could not be satisfied except with one more dose.

Morphine was extracted from opium

And then synthesized into heroin

It was used as a step down cure

To reduce the fiend and begin to wean the victim from its captor,

But it was useless;

Addiction had gone through the roof.

The U.S. ban couldn’t compete with the strong demand that sent addicts into the streets,

They had to get that fix to keep from getting sick,

Pleasure was now replaced with desperate need.

The black markets were wide open

New York’s Chinatown was leading the way,

The glorious nightmare was smuggled in from China and refined in Shanghai,

While doctors were trying to figure why it was so difficult to stay clean.

The wonder drug,

To treat whatever ails

Sending people to heaven and then straight to hell.

Predator and prey trapped in the same wretched soul,

Just one taste from an approved medical cure

Paved the road to always needing more

And dying in disgrace.


It is a sad story to tell,

Man’s inhumanity to man is bloody and mean,

But we must take a look at the past and reveal some of what has been concealed,

To get closer to the truth of our history.

Let’s start with Shark Island,

Where African people were massacred,

Herero’s were tortured and the Namibian’s rebelled against imposing rule,

Germans had to manage this fiery African rage,


Prison camps were set up to keep the indigenous warriors in control and in their place.

They were literally worked to death;

Murdered, raped and beaten by the guards,

Ravaged from starvation and disease

Thousands of lives were lost.

Shark Island was for people not worthy of remorse,

It was a harbinger for future slaughter

It was a template for the holocaust.

Our history is filled with mass murder

To get rid of people who were deemed unfit,

A philosophy and science were developed to justify killing folks;

Race and class containing the melanin gene,

The feeble minded, disabled and half-breed

Had to be exterminated

To keep the white race clean.

A few decades later it was used to kill the Jews,

And while the world was appalled

It was really nothing new at all,

Just the second verse to the same song,

Wiping out civilizations

Some to the point of extinction,

It happened all over the world

Of people who did nothing wrong

Except for the fact that they were born.

So much has been erased from our historical consciousness,

One of which was the supported and endorsed science

That was known as Eugenics.

Separation Anxiety

You stay over there and over here is mine,

Said the Germans to the Italians;

Irish to Polish,

Said the Slavs to the Jews,

So, the Negro had to build his own place and worked to improve his lot in life.

Armed with skills from being a slave,

The masons and carpenters

The farmers and house maids

put together an empire that would serve and would be

An enclave of Negro prosperity.

We owned acres of land across the U.S.

Built factories and worked our farms;

We had humble homes to care for elders and the young with no political clout,

No pleas and shouts to give us a job or even give us a loan

Because we had our own banks to back us up,

We had everything we needed to get the job done.

Restaurants and barbershops,

Blacksmiths and bakers

Seamstress and undertakers,

Nightclubs and stores created jobs and fueled an economy for the wealthy and the poor and kept everyone alive,

Willing to strive for a better life

While the Jim Crow party insisted we live otherwise.

We had fleets of buses and cabs

A couple of baseball leagues,

Had our own movies and movies stars,

And so, it seemed we could go as far as we wanted to,

Walking on solid ground with our heads held high,

We would sell to one another and we would buy

Our homes and cars and invest in our dreams,

Our doctors made house calls

Lawyers took our complaints to court if need be.

Teachers taught us to know better,

Preachers brought The Good News on a closer walk with thee,

While we worked, and depended upon one another.

Black Wall Streets were popping up all over

Not just in Tulsa Oklahoma, but in Wilmington and Durham, North Carolina,

Mortgaged and insured educated and fed,

By our determined spirit and not the heads of state,

Justice and peace were ours to create.

The Great Depression slowed the pace,

And then it was further diluted by the desire to integrate.

We don’t need a revolution,

We don’t need a leader or any more books

We need to look at what our ancestors did,

Roll up our sleeves

And then,

Get to work.

Let’s Have Church

Fresh from the Praise House,

We stomped our feet and clapped our hands

We worshipped our God in Ring Shouts

Called on His name to free us from the slave land.

We had been stuck with the Master’s church all day,

But at night we prayed and worshipped our way;

We sang our own songs deep into the night

Generating power to buy freedom for one another and then set our sight on a church of our own,

We prayed to the Lord to guide us and help us

and to give us strength to weather the storm.

We were hanged and beaten,

Arrested and jailed,

Our churches were burned down

But see,

The white folks just didn’t understand

The church wasn’t the building, but inside of us all,

The fellowship from song and praise endured

So even if we died,

The church would spread and sustain subjugated souls,

Under the fiery cloud of blessed assurance

That no whip, or chain, or rope could ever control.

The northern migration brought a change of heart;

Some took the high road and sought education, a decent job and a home.

What had been the hallmark of faith

Was pushed aside and left alone,

A few roamed to other congregations

And quickly absorbed different style

And different taste.

They got rid of everything Negro,

Foot stomping and hand clapping was low brow,

Those old slave songs were not allowed.

’This is a proper church with proper hymns

You can take that screaming and shoutin right back to the praise house!’

Membership was not available

If your skin was darker than a paper bag

Or if your hair got stuck in the comb,

You weren’t welcome in silk stocking service,

Had to go someplace else to find a church home.

Highbrow folks as they were called,

Adopted lifestyles from whites

But it was considered acquiring class,

Nobody shouted amen,

They barley bowed their heads

They sat quietly and polite

With solemn faces throughout the entire mass.

Saturday night chords came in the back door and found its way to the ivory keys of glory;

Reverends had a fit

Deacons and sisters were appalled,

Some kind of nerve bringing the Saturday night devil music inside of these holy walls;

But it started to catch on

Even proper folk took note,

And when churches were bombed

Marchers were armed with power from the Gospel.

Everybody had a little talk with Jesus,

Ain’t gonna let nobody turn us around,

Babylon is falling

And I’m a calling

For the blood to be over me.

Just a taste of our history

Of how we treated each other

When we were all just trying to be free.

Let’s have church.


They clung to their European heritage

And shunned the African side,

Shunned the back slappin, toe tapping, emotionally gesticulating hard Baptist shoutin Negro,

Preferring the prestige of indoor delights,

Exposed to the finer things in life;

They had store bought clothes and dining etiquette accompanied by refined articulation that rivaled their master,

Exiled cousins and siblings looked on from a distance racked with envy and contempt.

Rejected by kith and kin,

The light, bright, damn near white, mulatto, high-yella red bone was often conflicted from the outside in,

Embracing a culture requiring their subordination encrusted with an ugly residue of silent hatred.

Hostage to the one drop rule

Resenting their African tinge

Stuck on the boundary of the racial divide

With no place to hide they fled to the Tidewater Region,

Where the marriage between Maryland and Virginia created Washington D.C.,

A place that produced another chapter of Negro culture commonly known as Black Bourgeoisie.

High toned alumni from segregated schools bought bits and pieces of plantations that they were proud to own.

Professional status afforded them bone China and two sheets on the bed,

They were happy to display a wall full of intellectual books that were hardly ever read.

Their eloquent breeding prepared them for elegant affairs,

With a room full of light skin folks with straight hair.

They were particular, about whom they wed,

Making sure the bride or groom-to-be

Was of proper background and acceptable hue,

The elders had critical concern when a new life entered the family,

Before they asked about gender or health

The first thing they wanted to know was

What color is the baby?

The social currency of European lineage carried a heavy weight,

Followed by education, career and zip code,

The bourgeoisies were pursued and demonized,

Snubbed and glamorized

Until James Brown helped us to realize that black was a beautiful thing.

African culture was embraced,

Black and brown faces held their heads up high

Some for the first time,

Breaking the old version of splendor and worth,

Black and brown folk were finally able to put their proud selves first.

It is another struggle to break the shame and accentuate our beauty;

Breaking the chains from our own people,

Deeply embedded in our history.

Blowing Dust

The lights were on and the railroads were running

Skyscrapers were being built

Radio was just kicking in,

The silver screen was silent, but the Jazz Age was loud

Motor cars and motor Inns enabled folks to go to places they had never been,

Stock yards and steel mills were backed by Mellon and Morgan

And that opened up free labor in the north,

The Immigration Act of 1924

Meant that there were more jobs for Negroes

Who were hungry to taste the American dream.

Lynching was as pervasive as the fear it created,

Poverty for black and white was the rule

The heartland was feeling the sting of drought

Borrowed money made the stock market rise,

While Bootleggers and rum runners kept an endless supply of booze,

Back yard stills were working overtime by the light of the moon.

The NAACP and the Urban League

Articulated the anger and magnified the pleas

To expose what was causally denied,

When the sun went down and nobody was around

Savagery reigned free

It was plain old fashioned Terrorism,

– American Style.

Sentenced to death if we looked white folks in the eye,

And the good paying jobs proudly displayed a big bold sign,

Saying that Negroes need not apply.

There were strikes to improve working conditions in the north and the price of cotton fell in the south,

So, from the factories to the fields

The American Communist Party

Took a stand and successfully appealed to the struggling worker and the dejected Negro,

They embraced the quest for equality and a

Sharecroppers union was formed

In an attempt to recover back pay, but it was short lived because the economic orgy had reached its peak and then came crashing down,

After the infamous October day, there wasn’t anymore anyone could give,

Because Wall Street laid an egg.

Brother, can you spare a dime?

Do you know where I can take a bath or where I can find the nearest bread line?

The Jazz Age was over and for the next ten years

Swing would carry us through our hard times,

And fire side chats would calm our fears.


Big tobacco was in Durham, North Carolina,

The fields and the factories brought us there,

We lived on hot dusty roads in clap board homes

Locked inside the chain linked fence of segregation,

But a section of town grew by leaps and bounds

The black dollar reigned supreme

It was in a section of town called Hayti,

The other black wall street.

Spaulding founded North Carolina Mutual

And Scarborough had a fine funeral home,

We had hospitals and libraries to call our own

Theaters and restaurants flourished,

Carefree nightlife was ours to enjoy and encouraged everyone to live, work and play in Hayti.

We may have been separate, but we were successfully equal,

By keeping the money circulating with our own people

Making Durham a good place to live.

We praised the Lord at White Rock and St Joseph’s A.M.E

We could try on clothes in our shops and send our children to school in peace,

It wasn’t an angry mob, but urban renewal that brought our paradise to an end.

The roads were rearranged and private interest began to change the landscape that led to its demolition.

But for about seventy years we were able to defy and defeat the ravages of Jim Crow,

In the oasis of Hayti,

Durham’s black wall street.

And the Water Kept Rising

T.S. Elliot said April was the cruelest month,

Bessie Smith sang about how much it rained,

And it did;

The skies opened as oceans of water poured onto the delta,

It rained and rained some more,

The river was swollen and the levies were stressed

And it kept on raining;

Three feet, four feet and the water kept rising.

Pigs were squealing and people were screaming, desperation pierced the tormented air as they were washed away,

Neighbors were nearby and yet couldn’t help one another from the currents swirling around,

Houses and barns, boats and trees

Caught a ride on angry waves of power

Having no mercy on livestock, elders or new born babies,

Chilling gurgling sounds signaled somebody dying a lonely death,

But there was no time to grieve;

Five feet, six feet and the water kept rising.

Prisoners and sharecroppers were forced to work the levies in futile attempts to hold the water back,

White men armed with guns

Were ready to blow off any black head attempting to run,

As the water surged workers were swept away

And their bodies were never recovered,

Survivors were trapped with no food or water for days,

And there was no relief in sight,

Seven feet, eight feet and the water kept rising.

From Oklahoma to West Virginia,

From Illinois to the delta,

Nothing but water to see

In some places, more than twenty feet deep

People were huddled in box cars and the second floor of buildings

Trying to keep their head above the water,

Trying to keep the water below their feet.

Boats that could have rescued thousands only saved a few,

They were turned away by landowners who feared their labor would never come back


Africans were stuck on levy camps

Filled with hatred and disease,

Lost what little they had

Waiting for the water to recede,

And then they had to go back to the plantation

With their cotton-picking sacks.

They bided their time

And you know what they did,

As soon as the water was down

They left delta towns heading north

In hopes of finding a new and decent way to live.

Blues Mamas

Sippie Wallace sang she needed A Man for Everyday of the Week,

While Liquor wars were going strong

Sippie had the Dead Drunk Blues,

Al Capone was armed and extremely dangerous,

And he kept speakeasies well stocked with bootleg booze,

Mamie Smith’s man gave her the Mean Daddy Blues

Ida Cox was ready to kill hers,

Murder’s Gonna be my Crime,” she testified,

Tired of this booze crazy man

While Alberta complained about an aggravating double crosser

Clara claimed she Ain’t got Nobody to Grind her Coffee,

He May be your Dog, but He’s Wearing my Collar!” Rosa Henderson boasted,

Sweet Emma declared, “I Ain’t Gonna Give Nobody my Jellyroll,”

Mama Thornton reassured everybody, ’It’s Gonna be Alright’,

While Bessie Smith Needed a Little Sugar in her Bowl.

I’m talking about the Blues Mama’s who tore up the joints and stage,

Singing about the man they loved, the other woman they despised,

About their empty pockets and Saturday night fights.

They would taunt and tease the men,

Had them losing their minds;

One step, two step, tip toe to the edge,

Show just enough guarder to make them shout Yes!

And then, back it up fast,

Oh, how the crowd applauded and laughed in the glory of the moment.

Now there was one Mama who was hard to take

Lucille Bogan was her name;

She may have played in a dingy cat house

Or some other out of the way place;

Because her lyrics made you drop your mouth

She sang and described what she wanted;

She told you what she liked,

And told you what she did,

She took the guess work out

Could make a prostitute blush,

And for the average crowd

She was just too much,

But that’s the way she was.

Chick Webb stomped at the Savoy,

Sweet Mama String bean was known to turn grown men

Into begging little boys,

Organ grinder blues;

Do what you did last night,

They were fine, brown and sexy

And the white men couldn’t wait

To get just a taste,

Of the after dark uptown delight.

We ain’t misbehaving,

Just enjoying and savoring,

A midnight scene that belonged to loose women and slick men with blistering notes of splendor;

Ragtime, The Blues converged into the jazz age,

Filled with our history, our culture, sorrow and rage

From the delta to Harlem

They were stomping and hollerin’

About what is still bugging us to this very day;

Blues Mama’s

Robust, sensuous

Proud women telling the world what they had to say.

The Music Box


From different countries speaking a variety of tongues,

Yet they shared in the same percussive beat,

They clapped their hands and stomped their feet as they praised the gods from the motherland,

Their spirit survived the Middle Passage,

And brought life to Congo Square,

Syncopation grew up on the plantations of despair where somebody hollered out for mercy,

And then a shout came back confirming their plea was heard,

The repetition strengthened their resolve to endure and resist the carnage of body and soul around them.

The book of Exodus provided hope,

Compositions of Praise were created

It was holy—set them free,

They owned a sacred foundation their masters could not understand,

Syncopation in their feet and hands saved their souls and kept them strong as they looked forward to the promise land,

With divine assurance that it won’t be long.

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