Etheridge Knight, one of Bushie Knight and Belzora (Cozart) Knight’s seven children, came into the world on April 19, 1931, near Corinth, Mississippi. During this time, the United States was gripped by one of history’s most sensational racial battles, the Scottsboro boys trial. Nine black youths, ages twelve to nineteen, were taken off a train near Scottsboro, Alabama, and charged with the rape of two Huntsville, Alabama, white women, Ruby Bates, eighteen, and Victoria Price, twenty-one. The incident seeded a cloud of white fear and rage that shadowed black men throughout the South for more than thirty years.
Angered by the racial segregation and disgusted by the backbreaking work of sharecropping, Knight dropped out of school after the eighth grade and left home. He wandered for about five years, then enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1947. Knight was a medic, stationed in Guam and Hawaii, and was on the battlefront in the Korean War when he was wounded by a piece of shrapnel in 1951. Knight, who had become addicted to drugs, was discharged in 1957. Drugs dominated his life.
In 1960, Knight was sentenced to prison for a robbery in Indianapolis, motivated by his need to buy drugs. His experience doing time at Indiana State Prison in Michigan City led Knight to self-discovery and an increased desire to be more than an outcast in the United States. Those yearnings prompted him to write.
Poems from Prison, his first...
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