Category: Lorde, Audre

where was the warrior poet april 4, 1968?


Opening Warrior Poet at random and i land on a bit of correspondence from Mary Daly in 1979. Audre Lorde had sent her The Black Unicorn and she is responding to the poet. “Many of them [the poems]  moved me deeply […] Others seemed farther from my own experience. You have helped me to be aware of different dimensions of existence.”

Alexis De Veaux’s astounding life of Audre Lorde was assigned reading in one of my undergrad history courses. A theme we teased out in class discussions was indeed this multitude of dimensions to a black woman’s existence. The book’s structure is divided into separate “lives,” one before and one after her cancer diagnosis. We traced different identities that complexly intertwined: Audre Lorde as writer, mother, academic, activist, lesbian, a black feminist woman in the US searching for “an ancestral self.”

But the reason why i grabbed the text off the shelf once more was because on this day, Martin Luther King Jr was murdered. Seeing the notice on my social media immediately triggered a memory of reading a scene in this book on page 100. It goes like this:

There was a symbolic opportunity to revisit Tougaloo on April 4. Many of her beloved students, members of the Tougaloo Choir, came to New York to do a fund-raising concert for Tougaloo, with Duke Ellington, at Carnegie Hall. As a freelance assignment for the Clarion Ledger, a Jackson-based newspaper, Lorde was to cover the concert and write and article about it. She was seated up front listening to the choir singing “What the World Needs Now Is Love” when the concert was interrupted by the announcement that Martin Luther King, Jr., had been shot and killed in Memphis, Tennessee. The entire house broke into tears, as did Ellington and the choir. Albert Honeywell, head of the Tougaloo Choir, urged the young people to finish the song in tribute to King.

The murder of Marting Luther King, Jr., was a bitter irony. In cities across the nation, black people erupted — looting, rioting, unsure of the enduring relevance of non-violent protest in a society wholly implicit in King’s death. When civil order was finally imposed, a collective black rage had exacted $45 million in damages as payback.