If We Must Die

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"If We Must Die" is a poem by Claude McKay published in the July 1919 issue of The Liberator. McKay wrote the poem as a response to mob attacks by white Americans upon African-American communities during Red Summer.[1] The poem was reprinted in The Messenger and the Workers' Dreadnought (London) later that year.[2] The poem was also read to Congress that year by Henry Cabot Lodge, the Republican Senator from Massachusetts.[3]

If We Must Die

if we must die, let it be not like hogs
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,
While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,
Making their mock at our accursed lot.
If we must die, O let us nobly die,
So that our precious blood may not be shed
In vain; then even the monsters we defy
Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!
O kinsmen! we must meet the common foe!
Though far outnumbered let us show us brave
And for their thousand blows deal one deathblow!
What though before us lies the open grave?
Like men we'll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall,dying, but fighting back!

Critical response[edit]

Wallace Thurman considered the poem as embodying the essence of the New Negro movement as it was not aimed at arousing sympathy, but rather consisted of self-assertion.[3]


The poem was recited in the film August 28: A Day in the Life of a People, which debuted at the opening of the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture in 2016.[4][5][6]

Popular Culture[edit]

The poem was recited by a leader of a black rebel group during Episode 3, Season 4 of The Man in the High Castle (TV series) (air date of November 15th, 2019) prior to a dangerous mission against an authoritarian regime.


  1. ^ McWhirter, Cameron (2011). Red Summer: The Summer of 1919 and the Awakening of Black America. Henry Holt and Company. pp. 85–86. ISBN 9781429972932.
  2. ^ Donlon, Anne (2016). ""A Black Man Replies": Claude McKay's Challenge to the British Left". Lateral. 5 (1, May 2016). doi:10.25158/L5.1.2. Retrieved 31 August 2018.
  3. ^ a b Notten, Eleonore van (1994). Wallace Thurman's Harlem Renaissance. Rodopi. ISBN 9051836929. Retrieved 31 August 2018.
  4. ^ Davis, Rachaell (September 22, 2016). "Why Is August 28 So Special To Black People? Ava DuVernay Reveals All In New NMAAHC Film". Essence.
  5. ^ Keyes, Allison (2017). ""In This Quiet Space for Contemplation, a Fountain Rains Down Calming Waters"". Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved March 10, 2018.
  6. ^ "Ava Duvernay's 'August 28' Delves Into Just How Monumental That Date Is To Black History In America". Bustle.com. Retrieved 2018-08-30.