by Langston Hughes
[Dr. King and Langston Hughes maintained a friendship for years. Hughes wrote this poem in 1956 during the 13-month Montgomery bus boycott. Day after day, Negroes walked miles to work instead of riding the buses, and Dr. King first emerged as a leading force in the civil rights movement.]
A Little Letter to the White Citizens of the South
In line of what my folks say in Montgomery,
In line of what they’re teaching about love,
When I reach out my hand, will you take it
Or cut it off and leave a nub above?
If I found it in my heart to love you,
And if I thought I really could,
If I said “Brother, I forgive you,”
I wonder, would it do any good?
So long, so long a time you’ve been calling
Me all kinds of names, pushing me down –
I been swimming with my head deep under water,
And you wished I would stay under until I drown.
But I didn’t! I’m still swimming! Now you’re mad
Because I won’t ride in the back end of your bus.
When I answer, “Anyhow, I’m gonna love you,”
Still and yet, you want to make a fuss.
Now listen, white folks!
In line with Reverend King down in Montgomery –
Also because the Bible says I must –
I’m gonna love you – yes I will! Or BUST!