(Masterpieces of American Literature)

“For My People” was mostly written in a fifteen-minute burst of brilliant inspiration. Its principal tactics are inventory—a concretization of the feeling—and repetition, a concentration and intensification of the poem’s passion and political resolve, especially tuned for oral presentation.

Stanza I begins the chronology of African American history with the first of six incantations of “for my people,” recalling the songs of an enslaved race—of sadness, of verbal play, of grief, of the rare times of joy, and of supplication and submission to whatever God has willed.

Stanza II describes the tasks of slavery, performed in uncompensated and blind hope: “washing, ironing, cooking, scrubbing, sewing, mending, hoeing, plowing, digging, planting, pruning, patching.”

Stanza III goes from the ancestral past to Walker’s childhood with a list of her places and acts of play in Alabama—baptizing, preaching, doctor, jail, soldier, school, mama, cooking, concert, store, hair, and “Miss Choomby and company,” Walker’s childhood code for African American grown-up women.

Stanza IV remembers the experience of going to a segregated school to learn the bitter truth of how being black in America was to be poor and politically ignored.

Stanza V celebrates the youth who bravely grew to maturity against these obstacles, had some fun and joy, married and had children, and then died of “consumption and...

(The entire section is 416 words.)

For My People Bibliography

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Barksdale, Richard K. “Margaret Walker: Folk Orature and Historical Prophecy.” In Black American Poets Between Worlds, 1940-1960, edited by R. Baxter Miller. Tennessee Studies in Literature 30. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1986.

Berke, Nancy. Women Poets on the Left: Lola Ridge, Genevieve Taggard, Margaret Walker. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2001.

Buckner, B. Dilla. “Folkloric Elements in Margaret Walker’s Poetry.” CLA Journal 33 (1990): 367-377.

Carmichael, Jacqueline Miller. Trumpeting a Fiery Sound: History and Folklore in Margaret Walker’s “Jubilee.” Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1998.

Graham, Maryemma, ed. Conversations with Margaret Walker. Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 2002.

Graham, Maryemma, ed. Fields Watered with Blood: Critical Essays on Margaret Walker. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2001.

Klotmas, Phyllis. “’Oh Freedom’—Women and History in Margaret Walker’s Jubilee.” Black American Literature Forum 11 (1977): 139-145.

Miller, R. Baxter. “The ’Intricate Design’ of Margaret Walker: Literary and Biblical Re-Creation in Southern History.” In Black American Poets Between Worlds, 1940-1960, edited by Miller. Tennessee Studies in Literature 30. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1986.

Ward, Jerry W., Jr. “A Writer for Her People: An Interview with Dr. Margaret Walker Alexander.” Mississippi Quarterly 41, no. 4 (Fall, 1998): 515-527.