by Marilyn Nelson
With her shiny black-patent sandals
and her Japanese parasol,
and wearing a brand-new Juneteenth dress,
Johnnie’s a living doll.
Juneteenth: when the Negro telegraph
reached the last sad slave . . .
It’s Boley’s second Easter;
the whole town a picnic.
Children run from one church booth
to the next, buying sandwiches,
sweet-potato pie, peach cobbler
with warm, sweaty pennies.
The ﬂame of celebration
ripples like glad news
from one mouth to the next.
These people slipped away
in the middle of the night;
arrived in Boley with nothing
but the rags on their backs.
These carpenters, contractors, cobblers.
These bankers and telephone operators.
These teachers, preachers, and clerks.
These merchants and restaurateurs.
These peanut-growing farmers,
these wives halting the advance of cotton
with ﬂowers in front of their homes.
Johnnie’s father tugs one of her plaits,
head-shaking over politics
with the newspaper editor,
who lost his other ear
getting away from a lynch mob.
(poem by Marilyn Nelson, found in Garnet Poems: An Anthology of Connecticut Poetry Since 1776, edited by Dennis Barone)