Influential Black Poems

Black History Month in America is important for many reasons because it highlights the historical innovations and movements by African Americans. Many of these historical figures were scientists, athletes, writers and more. It’s important to reflect on what African Americans  have to say in order to continuously gain knowledge of the hardships faced by their community in the pre-Civil Rights era. That is why I have taken the liberty to select my favorite poems written by black poets:

  1. 1. We Real Cool, Gwendolyn Brooks (1960)

    Brooks was born in 1917 in Topeka, Kansas. According to the Poetry Foundation, Brooks was one of the most influential poets of the 20th century. Much of her work was "politically conscious" and some had special focus on the Civil Rights movement. By the time she was writing her second autobiography, she was a poetry consultant in the Library of Congress. She passed away in 2003.

    Listen to Brooks read the poem herself.

  2. 2. Theme for English B, Langston Hughes (1951)

    Langston Hughes was born in Joplin, Missouri, in 1902. As a young man, he moved to New York City, where he became immersed in the Harlem Renaissance. According to Poetry Foundation, Hughes also wrote novels, short stories, essays and plays. His work was open about the frustrations of "black life" and was the first African American to earn a living off of writing and public lectures alone. He passed away in 1967.

  3. 3. On Being Brought from Africa to America, Phillis Wheatley (1768)

    Phillis Wheatley was born in 1753 in West Africa. She was captured and brought to North America as a slave. According to Poetry Foundation, Wheatley's work "was the abolitionists' illustrative testimony that blacks could be both artistic and intellectual." She is considered to be the first African American woman to publish poetry, and had met with the first president, George Washington, after sending a letter describing her love of America. She passed away in 1774, considered to be a poetic genius in both America and London at the time.

  4. 4. Talk, Terrance Hayes (2006)

    Hayes was born in Columbia, South Carolina, in 1971. According to the Poetry Foundation, much of Hayes' work covers race, culture, masculinity and music. Along with his published works, Hayes has also taught at Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Pittsburgh and the Universtiy of Alabama. He is currently an English professor at New York University.