Etheridge Knight


On April 19, 1931, Etheridge Knight was born in Corinth, Mississippi. Although he dropped out of school at age sixteen (as soon as he was old enough to join the army), his education in the uses and joys of language continued as he explored the world of juke joints, pool halls, and underground poker games. He began to master the art of the toast, a form of long, improvised, humorous poetry that dates back to the 19th century and has its roots in African storytelling. From 1947 to 1951, Knight served in the U.S. Army in Korea and returned with a shrapnel wound that caused him to fall deeper into a drug addiction that had begun during his service. In 1960, he was arrested for robbery and sentenced to eight years in the Indiana State Prison. During this time he began writing poetry, and he corresponded with and received visits from such established African American literary figures as Dudley Randall and Gwendolyn Brooks. Dudley Randall's Broadside Press published Poems from Prison (1968), Knight's first book, one year before he was released from prison. The book was a success, and Knight soon joined such poets as Amiri Baraka, Haki Madhubuti, and Sonia Sanchez (to whom he was once married) in what came to be called the Black Arts Movement. This movement, according to the poet and critic Larry Neal, was "radically opposed to any concept of the artist that alienates him from his community. Black Arts is the aesthetic and spiritual sister of the Black Power concept. As such, it envisions art that speaks directly to the needs and aspirations of Black America." Knight embraced these ideals in his own work and in 1970 edited a collection entitled Black Voices From Prison. Knight's books and oral performances drew both popular and critical acclaim, and he received honors from such institutions as the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Poetry Society of America. In 1990 he earned a bachelor's degree in American poetry and criminal justice from Martin Center University in Indianapolis. Etheridge Knight died in 1991. Source



A Poem for 3rd World Brothers

So keep your bouncing walk, and

keep your hip and mellow talk.  yeah – and

keep your jackknife laughter that shakes the air.

cause white / America would have you move

like cubes.  stumbling.  without rhythm

or freedom.  white / america would design

your dance and your speech by computer –

would have you sit in stiff chairs

and squeeze your knees.

white / America would kill the cat in you.


or they will send their lackeys to kill for them.

and if those negroes fail

white / America will whip out her boss okie doke:

make miss ann lift the hem of her mystic skirt

and flash white thighs in your yes to blind you

to your own beauty and that of your sisters

who choke back the hurt and hide their love

behind blond wigs and red wine.

and if you ain’t dead

by the time white thighs wrap round your head

white / America will send the thrill of the pill

to kill you.

you digit – you digit?

to down the red devils is to deal in Blk / death

(makes you fuck over your brothers) cuts you off

from your people, makes you cop out

and roam single – thru this graveyard

of white / America. and your ears will be deaf

to the cries of Blk / children who look to you to

protect them from the white / ghosts.


So keep your bouncing walk. and.

keep your hip and mellow talk. yeah – and

keep your jackknife laughter that shakes the air.

white / america seeks to kill the cat in you

cause white / america knows that fire eyes glow

that Blk / muscles are strong

and that if brothers dance together

freedom won’t be long –

you digit? – you digit?





Literary Movements:

Black Arts Movement

Anthology Years:


Music & Sports

Racial Injustice

Literary Devices:


the attribution of human qualities to a non-human thing


a recurrence of the same word or phrase two or more times

Rhetorical Question

a question asked for effect, not necessarily to be answered