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Marilyn Nelson




Across the Parade
      (Epiphany Davis, conjure-man)
All slaves in New York State were emancipated on July 4, 1827.
The black inhabitants of Manhattan were given permission to parade
on the following day.



I glimpsed something today, at the parade
to celebrate our freedom. (Who were once
not even human.) Bass and snare drums made
Broadway reverberate, but I saw a glance. . .

What a parade it was! Brown faces flowed
for blocks! (For the first time Old Glory flew
for us, too.) Sad excitement filled the crowd:
quiet, it owned the whole damn avenue.

Black institutions made their existence known
in six-inch letters painted on bright silk:
MOTHER BETHEL CHURCH A.M.E. ZION,
AFRICAN THEATRE COMPANY OF NEW YORK,

NY MANUMISSION SOCIETY, THE NY
AFRICAN FREE SCHOOL, MASONIC LODGE NO. 1,
PHILOMATHEAN LITERARY SOCIETY,
ABYSYSSIAN DAUGHTERS OF ESTHER ASSOCIATION.

Behind the bands and banners, dignified rows
of brothers and sisters marched, straw-foot, hay-foot,
whose fraught, trail-blazing arcs I somehow know
(but never tell) from casting bone and root.

Brown people, in neat, home-made uniforms,
plumed tricorns, the Grand Marshall on his horse:
what a beautiful race of unicorns!
(I see, but can't change, our self-losing course.)

I saw Obadiah McCollin and Elizabeth
Harding (Sis' Harding's girl — the one that reads)
exchange a look that said I do till death,
from opposite curbs of the surging, life-filled street.