In the Whip of the Whirlwind
African American Women in the Civil Rights–Black Power Movement
cracks into furious flower. Lifts its face
all unashamed. And sways in wicked grace.
Whose half-black hands assemble oranges
is tom-tom hearted
(goes in bearing oranges and boom).
And there are bells for orphans—
and red and shriek and sheen.
A garbage man is dignified
as any diplomat.
Big Bessie's feet hurt like nobody's business,
but she stands—bigly—under the unruly scrutiny,
stands in the wild seed.
In the wild weed
she is a citizen,
and, in a moment of highest quality, admirable.
It is lonesome, yes. For we are the last of the loud.
Conduct your blooming in the noise and whip of the
—Gwendolyn Brooks, from “The Second
Sermon on the Warpland”1
From the time that African women arrived on the shores of what came to be known as the “New World,” they have been caught up in a whirlwind of forces oftentimes beyond their control. Having survived the horrors of the Middle Passage was not enough; these mothers, grand-