“Brown has mighty things to do”

The Bronze Legacy

Effie Lee Newsome – 1885-1978

To a Brown Boy

’Tis a noble gift to be brown, all brown,
     Like the strongest things that make up this earth,
Like the mountains grave and grand,
     Even like the very land,
     Even like the trunks of trees—
     Even oaks, to be like these!
God builds His strength in bronze.

To be brown like thrush and lark!
     Like the subtle wren so dark!
Nay, the king of beasts wears brown;
     Eagles are of this same hue.
I thank God, then, I am brown.
     Brown has mighty things to do.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on June 30, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

Effie Lee Newsome was born on January 19, 1885, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Her father, Dr. Benjamin Franklin Lee, served as an editor of Philadelphia’s Christian Recorder and was a bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Newsome studied, though she did not receive degrees, at Wilberforce University, Oberlin College, the Philadelphia Academy of the Arts, and the University of Pennsylvania.

Newsome was one of the first African American poets who primarily published poems for children. She was the author of one volume of poetry, Gladiola Garden: Poems of Outdoors and Indoors for Second Grade Readers (The Associated Publishers, 1940), and she published numerous poems in the Crisis, Opportunity, and other leading journals of the Harlem Renaissance.  She also edited the children’s column “Little Page” in the Crisis. Her poems helped her young readers celebrate their own beauty and recognize themselves in fairy tales, folklore, and nature.

She married the Rev. Henry Nesby Newsome in 1920, and together they moved to Birmingham, Alabama. After her husband died in 1937, Newsome returned to Wilberforce, Ohio, where she worked as the children’s librarian at Central State University. She died in 1979.


Bibliography

Wonders: the Best Children’s Poems of Effie Lee Newsome (Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press, 1999)
Gladiola Garden: Poems of Outdoors and Indoors for Second Grade Readers (The Associated Publishers, 1940)

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