By MURPHY BROWNE (Abena Agbetu)
Coleridge Jackson had nothing to fear.
He weighed sixty pounds more than his sons
And one hundred pounds more than his wife
His neighbours knew he wouldn’t take tea for the fever.
The gents at the poolroom walked gently in his presence.
So everyone used to wonder why, when his puny boss,
A little white bag of bones and squinty eyes,
When he frowned at Coleridge, sneered at the way
Coleridge shifted a ton of canned goods from
The east wall to the warehouse all the way to the west,
When that skimpy piece of man-meat called Coleridge
A sorry ni _ _ er, Coleridge kept his lips closed, sealed, jammed tight.
Wouldn’t raise his eyes, held his head at a slant,
Looking way off somewhere else.
Everybody in the neighbourhood wondered why Coleridge would come home,
Pull off his jacket, take off his shoes,
And beat the water and the will out of his puny little family.
Excerpt from the poem “Coleridge Jackson”, by Maya Angelou, published October 1, 1991.
African-American author and poet Maya Angelou included the poem “Coleridge Taylor” in the anthology of poems entitled I Shall Not Be Moved.
Angelou (born Marguerite Ann Johnson on April 4, 1928) has published six autobiographies, which include experiences of growing up in a segregated White supremacist southern town (Stamps, Arkansas).
In the poem “Coleridge Jackson” she has captured the pathological effect that living under a White supremacist system has on African-American families. Coleridge Jackson’s violent behaviour towards his family after being subjected to his employer’s White supremacist taunts – for several hours of every day – is something even he cannot understand.
Angelou writes of Coleridge Jackson’s and even the African-American community’s reaction to the violence unleashed on the Jackson family:
Everybody, even Coleridge, wondered (the next day, or even that same night). However Jackson’s employer knew exactly what was happening and why: Everybody but the weasly little sack-of-bones boss with his envious little eyes, he knew. He always knew. And when people told him about Coleridge’s family, about the black eyes and the bruised faces, the broken bones, Lord how that scrawny man grinned.
Coleridge Jackson’s employer/tormentor delighted in keeping his employee in a state of anxiety and torment apparently enjoying the Jackson family’s plight and the power he wielded over their lives. And the next day, for a few hours, he treated Coleridge nice. Like Coleridge had just done him the biggest old favour. Then, right after lunch, he’d start on Coleridge again. “Here, Sambo, come here. Can’t you move any faster than that? Who on earth needs a lazy ni _ _ er?” And Coleridge would just stand there. His eyes sliding away, lurking at something else.