History of the North American Nee-grow in 5 Easy Lessons

My life has been black, with blues. It has a soundtrack, but you cannot hear it unless you whisper. But now, it plays in my head. Sometimes, you just gotta hum its tune, cry a bit, and let it go.

Lesson 1 – Survival 


he came as slave
in ship-board squalor
with ankle chain
and metal collar

like coffee ground
thus brown and bitter
sleep in his bed
wake in the shitter

now separate him
each from the other
from ancient rites
from tribal brother

he slaved away
from dawn till seven
then sought his peace
in white folks heaven


Lesson 2 – Indentured

Africans Being Taken in to Bondage

in Haiti, Cuba, Louisville
conditions were the same
they entered life with souls in chains
and left the way they came
the masters were quite skillful
at tearing them asunder
they let them choose ‘twixt work and death
they worked, which was no wonder

had Enwords working in the house
and blackmen in the field
houseEnwords played the masters pets
and thus their fates were sealed
when massa spoke of “my” and “we”
houseboy said “our” and “us’n”
so thus when fieldhands acted up,
houseEnwords did the cussin’


Lesson 3 – Rebellion

malcolm mugshot

now time had passed for malcontents
and angry men now freed
this rift ‘twixt black and black
would spawn a very ugly seed
the nee-grow (houseboys) yessed and grinned
and truly, they were pleased
the blackmen smiled and yessed and grinned
o’er anger not appeased

the new world nee-grows were content
acheiving second best
they were appalled at angry shouts
while streets blazed with unrest


they called their hero Martin King
all others were uncouth
they held the gun while Malcolm died
afraid to hear the truth

When Martin died that April day
it was a revelation
for though he spoke of peace and love
hate never takes vacations


Lesson 4 – Remission


once shouts had died and peace restored
the nee-grows were placated
they went and sat in coffee shops
their blackness now abated

but blackness once created
cannot ever be undone
the blackmen learned from whence they came
and stood, and marched as one

it was and is a sad affair
that nee-grows never know
that though they’ve walked a distant path
there’s still a need to grow

Malcolm X at a Harlem Civil Rights Rally

Lesson 5 – Revelations


we see the nee-grows every day
behind their picket fences
adorn themselves with shiny shit
that make them feel like princes

not Susan Rice or Colin P
who make success seem easy
they’re Condi Rice and Clarence T
who make the blackmen queasy

the nee-grows praise with money hymns
they dance their corporate dances
they use their own as stepping stones
and leave no backward glances

now blackmen, hither, stand by me
if thou knows it, telling
yonder nee-grow who is he,
lives he in your dwelling?

are you, blackman, certain, truly
that you know him – do you?
for if you cannot find him, well,
perhaps, that’s ’cause he is you


Later, Uncle.


  1. Hanno Phenn says:

    I actually was familiar with this part of History .But good to get reminded.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Hanno.

  2. araneus1 says:

    My history is so white I feel that I would like to say something, but how could I possibly know what it was/is like to be a nee-grow in the US of A?

    1. I think it’s time for all of us to just be people. I actually wrote this around 25 years ago. I added the last verse probably a decade ago.

      It’s really a cautionary tale for any group that once struggled. You can achieve success while completely losing sight of who you used to be.

      1. araneus1 says:

        The ‘loosing sight’ thing seems to be a very human thing to do. Anger tends to throw the pendulum way past the centre point….. if we live long enough we get to see it settle in the middle.

  3. cecilia says:

    Mercy, I have no idea what to say. I was not brought up here but learned about the horrors of racism and slavery and black ladies on buses in a brown and white classroom by the sea in New Zealand. America sounded terrifying. We were taught that everyone should have the same chances, the teachers would point out where it went wrong. We were taught that what was/is happening here was absolutely wrong. This was in our text books. In the 60’s. We had tests on it. We were taught about the black leaders and could not understand why someone would shoot them, what had they said that was wrong? and lived in fear of one day having to walk down a street in America. There are no reservations in NZ. Nor had there EVER been all white cafes, or black servants in small suburban houses, let alone slaves. In fact the whole concept of feeling justified in refusing to sit on the same toilet as a black woman is confusing for me. I have read and read and talked to everyone who will talk about it to me, but i still cannot find the answer.I cannot get into their heads. I still cannot understand at all putting on a white sheet and parading down a street in your cars waving guns in the air! Your poem is so strong and so right. But please forgive me for not having the history to really understand. I am sitting by the big window looking out across the corn fields, to a beautiful old house that a black man is renovating for his family across the way. I wish I could ask him and his wife to tell me about it. But where would I begin.. It seems like such a racist question that only a foreigner like me would ask.. Do you think? c

    1. I wouldn’t think it’s racist. I have friends from South Africa who grew up before Apartheid ended. I don’t hesitate to ask questions and people enjoy explaining their histories. It’s much the same with slavery. Most of this wasn’t about race, it was about money.

      The part they don’t teach in schools is that few slaves would have been captured without help from other Africans. There was money in it, as there is now with child labor, and we as society took advantage of it.

      Now I think it’s time to stop blaming each other, and ourselves, and recognize all of this is over. Start from now, understand how we got to be whom we are, and begin.

      I hope no one reads this poem and thinks I’m pointing at anyone but African Americans. There is still 2 “Black Americas” and I wonder if people realize why. It’s time to just be people.

      1. cecilia says:

        It is time, it certainly is time. Now all we need is the will. Morning darling.. c

  4. None of this history was new to me, but as with any atrocity perpetuated upon any people it’s crucial that we not forget or allow the inhumanity to fade or blur. I was very little growing up in New York in the 60s in an extremely white neighborhood, so much of the civil rights movement was not at the forefront of my small existence. Still, for all their faults, my parents taught me that racism was wrong. More important, the principal at my elementary school was African American. Like any child, I was terrified of “being sent to the principal’s office”—but I respected him. He was what I’d call now a strong leader, a man who commanded respect because he treated others with respect.

    1. We are all learning what is and unlearning what we were told was truth. Finally, however, I’m enjoying the process.

      1. The enjoyment showed in your tone. It’s true that history often belongs to the victors, but that doesn’t mean we can’t turn the victors upside down and shake out the truth.

  5. Carissa says:

    This takes my breath away. I had racist parents, though likely they would not see themselves as such. But they always has something to say about what “those people” were demanding, doing, living. Ugh. I was in that generation that actively refused that world view. I didn’t understand it then, even less so now.

    Powerful piece, my friend. Thank you.

    1. Thanks, Carissa, I appreciate it. I grew up in a household that was descended from “Creole” folks, so I understand. They’d been taught similar things based on skin color, which was ludicrous. Even though we were all a mixture of African and French blood, somehow less melanin affected who you were as a person.

      I’m fortunate to live in Maryland, where we don’t have to deal with that kind of stupidity. Here, we only hate you based on how you drive.

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