Identify a message in “At the Cemetery, Walnut Grove Plantation, South Carolina, 1989” by Lucille Clifton.Explain your answer with examples from the poem.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I think that the acknowledgement of voice is one of the most important themes in the poem.  The notion of unmarked slave graves and how their contributions in building the plantation were unnamed occupies central primacy in the poem.  Of course, this is extrapolated into the larger message that we stand on the shoulders of giants and that those who often did most of the work received the least of credit.  I think that Clifton wants the efforts of slaves to be acknowledged.  This validation can take on different forms.  Perhaps, there is an outward rejection of slavery, the forced condition that made these men, women, and children sacrifice their lives in an unmarked graves.  At the same time, there might be an understanding that slavery was a condition where individuals persevered and endured unspeakable hardship and acknowledging this becomes of vital importance.  In the end, Clifton believes that she is initiating a process of understanding and acknowledgement of experience in creating a poetic homage to those who had died and to ensure their lives were not in vain.

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