I came across the following poem while doing even more reading/research for my paper. Some of the way things are said would not currently be considered politically-correct, but the sentiment of the poem is beautiful.
To give you the context, a student at one of the schools operated as part of the Port Royal Experiment got sick and died on Sunday. Monday evening people begin to gather for the burial service and as they are waiting the children, with their school books in hand, begin to the A, B, C's over and over again until the service begins.
The Negro Burying-Ground
William C. Gannett
‘Mid the sunny fist of the cotton-field
Lies an acre of forest-tangle still;
A cloister of dim, where the grey moss waves
And the live-oaks lock their arms at will.
Here in the shadows the slaves would hide
As they dropped the hoe at death’s release,
And leave no sign but a sinking mound
To show where they passed on their way to peace.
This was the Gate – there was none but this –
To a Happy Land where men were men;
And the dusky fugitives, one by one,
Stole in from the bruise of the prison-pen.
When, lo! In the distance boomed the guns,
The bruise was over, and “Massa” had fled!
But Death is the “Massa” that never flees,
And still to the oaks they bore the dead.
‘T was at set of sun; a tattered troop
Of children circled a little grave,
Chanting an anthem rich in its peace
As ever pealed in cathedral-cave, --
The A, B, C, that the lips below
Had learnt with them in the school to shout.
Over and over they sung it slow,
Crooning a mystic meaning out.
A, B, C, D, E, F, G, --
Down solemn alphabets they swept:
The oaks leaned close, the moon swung low, --
What strange new sound among them crept?
The holiest hymn that the children knew!
‘T was dreams come real, and heaven come near;
‘T was light, and liberty, and joy,
And “white-folks’ sense,” –and God right here!
Over and over; they dimly felt
This was the charm could make black white,
This was the secret of “Massa’s” pride,
And this, unknown, make the negro’s night.
What could they sing of braver cheer
To speed on his unseen way the friend?
The children were facing the mystery Death
With the deepest prayer that their hearts could send.
Children, too, and the mysteries last!
We are but comrades with them there, --
Stammering over a meaning vast,
Crooning our guesses of how and where.
But the children were right with their A, B, C;
In our stammering guess so much we say!
The singers were happy, and so were we:
Deep as our wants are the prayers we pray.