These poems touch on the various experiences of Black men, women, and children while also celebrating Black identity and accomplishments. Some of the poems focus on empowerment and strength, while others allude to the need for more important changes and a focus on addressing the needs of the Black community.
Best Poems to Read for Juneteenth
- 1 Still I Rise by Maya Angelou
- 2 I, Too, Sing America by Langston Hughes
- 3 Primer For Blacks by Gwendolyn Brooks
- 4 won’t you celebrate with me by Lucille Clifton
- 5 Rosa Parks by Nikki Giovanni
- 6 Caged Bird by Maya Angelou
- 7 Lineage by Margaret Walker
- 8 Harriet Beecher Stowe by Paul Laurence Dunbar
- 9 Ballad of Birmingham by Dudley Randall
- 10 C.R.E.A.M. by Danez Smith
- 11 FAQs
Still I Rise by Maya Angelou
In ‘Still I Rise’ the speaker stands up to prejudice and preconceived notions of who she should be. She knows that she’s valuable and as deserving of respect as anyone else. The refrain, “I rise” is used throughout the poem. Each time it’s repeated it gains intensity. You may write me down in history. Towards the end, the speaker proudly states that she is leaving behind her own history and the “nights of terror and fear”. She is headed into the light, bringing with her the “gifts that [her] ancestors gave”. Consider these lines from the poem:
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
Read more Maya Angelou poems.
I, Too, Sing America by Langston Hughes
‘I, Too, Sing America’ is about the poet’s experience as a Black man in the United States. He speaks on the fact that he feels like a forgotten American. He’s not treated equally in regard to all Americans despite the fact that he just as American as the next person. Furthermore, he’s immediately judged by his skin color. He uses this poem to speak out against racism and empower himself and others. Here is the second stanza:
I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.
Read more Langston Hughes poems.
Primer For Blacks by Gwendolyn Brooks
“Primer For Blacks’ is one of Brooks’ most powerful poems. In it, she speaks on the necessity of accepting one’s Black heritage and the unified future that will result from that acceptance. She describes Blackness as both a “commitment” and a “title.” It is what one is referred to as, but is also a promise one makes to “perceive” one’s “Glory.”
The poem comes to its conclusion with the speaker raising her voice and demanding that all those, no matter how much Black blood they have, accept their own race and heritage. Here are a few lines from Brooks’ poem:
stretches over the land.
the Black of it,
the deep-brown middle-brown high-brown of it,
the “olive” and ochre of it—
Explore more Gwendolyn Brooks poems.
won’t you celebrate with me by Lucille Clifton
In ‘won’t you celebrate with me’ Clifton confronts racism and gender inequality. The first lines are a call to action, asking the reader to celebrate with her. The speaker, who is generally considered to be Clifton herself, or perhaps an embodiment of all women like her, has achieved a great deal against all odds. She has none of the benefits of privilege, money, and whiteness, but has overcome that. The gender bias of contemporary and historical society has not repressed her, it has not won the battle for control over her life. Read these lines from the poem:
won’t you celebrate with me
what i have shaped into
a kind of life? i had no model.
born in babylon
both nonwhite and woman
what did i see to be except myself?
Discover more Lucille Clifton poems.
Rosa Parks by Nikki Giovanni
In this celebratory poem, Giovanni traces the history of the Civil Rights movement through the people, court cases, protests, and publications that defined it. Within the text, a reader can find reference to Gwendolyn Brookes, Brown v. Board of Education, the Pullman Porters, and most prominently Rosa Parks. The lines of this poem read like a prose-poem, taking the reader through images of suffering, determination, light, and darkness. Consider these lines from Giovanni’s poem:
This is for the Pullman Porters who organized when people said
they couldn’t. And carried the Pittsburgh Courier and the Chicago
Defender to the Black Americans in the South so they would
know they were not alone. This is for the Pullman Porters who
helped Thurgood Marshall go south and come back north to fight […]
Read more Nikki Giovanni poems.
Caged Bird by Maya Angelou
In this eye-opening poem, Angelou speaks about Black men and women have to struggle to be heard because of the color of their skin. She describes the experience of two different birds in the lines of ‘Caged Bird.’ One, the metaphorical white bird, flies freely through its life while the other, the Blackbird, is confined to a cage in which it can barely move. All it can do is sing fearfully of the things it wants and does not know. It sings for its freedom and everyone, even those far distant, can hear its song. Here are a few lines:
But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.
Explore more Maya Angelou poems.
Lineage by Margaret Walker
In ‘Lineage’ Margaret Walker describes the strength of a speaker’s enslaved female ancestors and how they suffered for that strength. These women to whom she is related, either by blood or race, were forced to labor and die on plantations and farmlands. The poet makes use to emphasize how strong these women were in both mind and body. These women persevered and even though they suffered greatly, they still have “many clean words to say.” In the final lines of the poem, the speaker asks why she is not as strong as they are. Here are a few lines from this amazing poem:
My grandmothers were strong.
They followed plows and bent to toil.
They moved through fields sowing seed.
They touched earth and grain grew.
They were full of sturdiness and singing.
My grandmothers were strong.
Discover more Margaret Walker poems.
Harriet Beecher Stowe by Paul Laurence Dunbar
Paul Laurence Dunbar’s ‘Harriet Beecher Stowe’ praises the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin for how she wrote a true portrayal of slavery in the American south. The poet makes it clear that people were well aware of the horrors occurring around them but chose to ignore them. The world wept, Dunbar suggests, when’s someone was finally able to speak openly about the truth of slavery. Her “fearless” voice made this possible. Here are a few lines:
She told the story, and the whole world wept
At wrongs and cruelties it had not known
But for this fearless woman’s voice alone.
She spoke to consciences that long had slept:
Read more Paul Laurence Dunbar poems.
Ballad of Birmingham by Dudley Randall
This incredible poem was published in 1965. It was written in response to the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. The speaker narrates the last moments of a little girl’s life, her mother’s choice to send her to the church rather than allow her to go to a protest, and then her discovery that her child has been killed. Here are a few lines of this deeply sad poem:
For when she heard the explosion,
Her eyes grew wet and wild.
She raced through the streets of Birmingham
Calling for her child.
Explore more Dudley Randall poems.
C.R.E.A.M. by Danez Smith
In this complex and moving poem, the speaker describes their personal life and the American racial wealth gap. Throughout the poem, Smith takes the reader into a speaker’s thoughts, dreams, and fears. This speaker, who could be Smith, describes their obsessive focus on money. It haunts their days and nights through its necessity and ephemeral nature. Race, sex, and economics are tied together in almost every section of the poem. Through personal depictions of want and need, Smith’s speaker alludes to a larger need to address the racial wealth gap, the prison-industrial complex, and make reparations to the black community. Here are a few lines:
my aunt can’t hold on to a dollar, a job, her brain
I love how easy it is to be bad with money
don’t ask me about my taxes
the b in debt is a silent black boy trapped
Read more Danez Smith poems.
Juneteenth is a holiday celebrated in the United States on June 19th. It commemorates the emancipation of enslaved people in the US.
A Juneteenth poem is a piece of writing that captures the essence of Juneteenth. Or, it is a poem that was specifically written for the occasion.
The most common themes in these poems are suffering, celebration, history, and the importance of the past. Hope for the future is another interesting and commonly used theme.
The tone in some Juneteenth poems is sorrowful, while in others it is celebratory. For some, the mood is appreciative and for others, emotionally stirring.
They are important as they convey the emotional and physical state of Black men and women across the United States. These poems are a way of connecting with an experience that may not be one’s own.