Monday, February 11, 2019

the tree of freedom

The Tree of Freedom
by Troy Cady

We were still learning to read
but I swear I never heard
such a simple thought
expressed with so much complexity.

We didn’t know exactly
what it meant at first.
We sooner would have
been able to explain
how such a grand tree
came to be,
this oak,
our gathering place,
this shade we now enjoy.

You see,
a tree needs no reason,
especially this one.
Wonder is enough,
awe, praise and honor.
What tenderness
I feel from her aged strength,
what joy—or is it hope?—
rises in me under her leaves!
Let these tears,
the countless tears
of no-account souls
water her strong roots.
Let me do my part;
let me weep at her feet.

Here in her shade
it was enough
to understand
but two big words:
proclamation and

Still, I prefer a simpler
way of saying it:
shout it out
to everyone.

I like short words
like oak,
like this live oak.
I can’t explain it,
but a live oak I can understand.
Who doesn’t?
An oak is big enough
for everyone.
An oak like this
speaks every language.

Just look
how these gnarled branches
set us all straight that day—
the day we heard those words of freedom.
We protect her
because she protected us.

I say to you
this ageless oak is enough.
She remembers
and lends us her great memory.
She’s enough.
Though she die, yet will she live.


“She soon found a favorite spot near the inn under the huge gnarled branches of the Emancipation Oak, in the shade of which the Virginia Peninsula’s black community had gathered in 1863 to read Lincoln’s famous address freeing America’s slaves.” -Douglas Brinkley, writing about Rosa Parks when she worked at the Hampton Institute from 1957-1958. Citation is from the biography Rosa Parks (New York: Penguin, 2000), 179.

Today, the Emancipation Oak on the campus of Hampton University is a protected landmark.


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