This poem by Langston Hughes is for the kids: for the stone-throwers, the sweatshop workers, the scavengers, the unaccompanied ones crossing borders, the abandoned ones, the trafficked ones. Less a tribute than a lament that generations of kids still grow old without childhoods. Children are the ones not just dying to change that but often leading the way:
“For the kids who die are like iron in the blood of the people—and the old and rich don’t want the people to taste the iron of the kids who die…”
‘Kids Who Die’ (by Langston Hughes)
This is for the kids who die,
Black and white,
For kids will die certainly.
The old and rich will live on awhile,
Eating blood and gold,
Letting kids die.
Kids will die in the swamps of Mississippi
Kids will die in the streets of Chicago
Kids will die in the orange groves of California
Telling others to get together.
Whites and Filipinos,
Negroes and Mexicans,
All kinds of kids will die
Who don’t believe in lies, and bribes, and contentment
And a lousy peace.
Of course, the wise and the learned
Who pen editorials in the papers,
And the gentlemen with Dr in front of their names,
White and black,
Who make surveys and write books,
Will live on weaving words to smother the kids who die,
And the sleazy courts,
And the bribe-reaching police,
And the blood-loving generals,
And the money-loving preachers
Will all raise their hands against the kids who die,
Beating them with laws and clubs and bayonets and bullets
To frighten the people—
For the kids who die are like iron in the blood of the people—
And the old and rich don’t want the people
To taste the iron of the kids who die,
Don’t want the people to get wise to their own power,
To believe an Angelo Herndon, or even get together.
Listen, kids who die—
Maybe, now, there will be no monument for you
Except in our hearts.
Maybe your bodies will be lost in a swamp
Or a prison grave, or the potter’s field,
Or the rivers where you are drowned like Leibknecht.
But the day will come—
You are sure yourselves that it is coming—
When the marching feet of the masses
Will raise for you a living monument of love,
And joy, and laughter,
And black hands and white hands clasped as one,
And a song that reaches the sky—
The song of the life triumphant
Through the kids who die.