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    A Floating Spar   Table of Contents

Bush, Olivia Ward

- Hope


The driftwood fire burns brightly on, but dreamingtime is over. Stern reality sounds its convincing call to the time of our awakening.

Over the troubled waters of our civilization comes a human cry for human rights--a starting echo from the far cry of bondage over half a century ago.

Prejudice, the floating wreckage of chattel slavery, rises ever to the surface of the turbulent waters of a Nation's life, obstructing each best attempt toward a safe course to its highest citizenship.

The clanking chains of racial injustice, that bind and hold fast the infinite longings and fondest ambitions of a human soul, must be broken.

Doors that are closed against him who lives and breathes in this, a free Republic;--who battles for its preservation, who embraces its educational opportunities, who enters its arena with unswerving purpose to aid in its progressive interests by contributing his own thrift, industry, intellectual and spiritual activities--must be opened.

Had the artist of 50 years ago desired to paint a thrilling picture of human woes, he might have produced upon his canvass this painfully familiar scene

--the auction-block--the slaver--and the enslaved, and beneath he might have written these words:

"The Barrier to a Nation's Progress."

But, if in the intensity of his soul, the artist of today desires to paint a true picture of the present attitude of the American mind toward a part of its citizenship, he might portray upon his canvass the following scene--an American citizen of darker hue, with manly bearing, standing, with outstretched hands before the closed door of a minature institution known as "Progressive Civilization," and behind him, a lawless mob. Beneath this he might well write the convincing words:

"Prejudice and Lynch Law--The Curse of the Twentieth Century."

But, happily, amid the wreckage, despite the turbulence, the floating spar of Hope is seen, making its way toward Right and Justice.

Julia Ward Howe beheld it, even through the gleaming camp-fires, when her soul longed for the "glory of the coming of the Lord." She saw its consummation in and through her mighty refrain, "His Cause is Marching On."


Harriet Beecher Stowe held fast to the firm support of Hope, in her vivid portrayal of Slavery, as a living dramatic reality, in that masterpiece of human history, "Uncle Tom's Cabin," and, it may be that her mantle will fall upon one who knows and feels the heart-throbs of his race, who has tatsted the bitterness of the bondage of American freedom and, who will yet write a great American Story, in which he shall tell of the Nation's greatest injustice, the denial of the ballot in the South; he shall also reveal volcanic fires of prejudice in the North, over which we daily tread.

Happily for him, he shall weave into the fabric of his genius, the inherited originalities of his people, the development and power of their musical birthright, and the cheering influence of their native humor.

It may be that the romance of home and social life will add a touch of coloring to his narrative.

But the pathos of his story, and the intensity of his longings will be most deeply felt, when he writes of an unalterable faith in the ultimate triumph of justice and its equalizing power. Surely then shall the Nation's heart be touched, and the American conscience stirred to higher, nobler impulses.


O! floating Spar of Hope
'Tis ours to cling full fast to thee,
Outriding e'en the mighty wave,
And current, strong with black despair,
Not even these have power to engulf
Nor stay thine onward course.
Justice and Right are bearing down upon us,
Ay, holding out strong hands,
Of help and timely rescue.
They lead to that long-looked-for Haven
Where man at last plays fair with brother-man
And gives him back his ancient Right. Equality!


How relentless, how impartial,
Is the fleeting hand of time,
By its stroke, great empires vanish
Nations fall in swift decline.

Once resounding through these forests,
Rang the warwhoop shrill and clear,
Once here lived a race of Red Men,
Savage, crude, but knew no fear.

Here they fought their fiercest battles,
Here they caused their wars to cease,
Sitting round their blazing camp fires,
Here they smoked the Pipe of Peace.

Tall and haughty were the warriors,
Of this fierce and warlike race.
Strong and hardy were their women,
Full of beauteous, healthy grace.

Up and down these woods they hunted,
Shot their arrows far and near.
Then in triumph to their wigwams,
Bore the slain and wounded deer.

() "On the Long Island Indian" appeared in The Annual Report of the Montauk Tribe of Indians for the Year 1916 (31 Aug., 1916), and is reproduced in this volume by courtesy of the Library of Anthropology at the Nassau County Museum, Sands Point Preserve, Port Washington, NY.

    A Floating Spar   Table of Contents