A Litany at Atlanta
by W.E.B. Du Bois
from Darkwater: Voices from Within the Veil, 1921

   O Silent God, Thou whose voice afar in mist and mystery hath left our ears an hungered in these fearful days-
          Hear us, good Lord!
   Listen to us, Thy children: our faces dark with doubt are made a
mockery in Thy sanctuary. With uplifted hands we front Thy heaven, O
God, crying:
          We beseech Thee to hear us, good Lord!
   We are not better than our fellows, Lord, we are but weak and
human men. When our devils do deviltry, curse Thou the doer and the
deed: curse them as we curse them, do to them all and more than ever
they have done to innocence and weakness, to womanhood and home.
          Have mercy upon us, miserable sinners!
   And yet whose is the deeper guilt? Who made these devils? Who
nursed them in crime and fed them on injustice? Who ravished and
debauched their mothers and their grandmothers? Who bought and sold
their crime, and waxed fat and rich on public iniquity?
          Thou knowest, good God!
   Is this Thy justice, O Father, that guile be easier than
innocence, and the innocent crucified for the guilt of the untouched
          Justice, O judge of men!
   Wherefore do we pray? Is not the God of the fathers dead? Have
not seers seen in Heaven’s halls Thine hearsed and lifeless form stark
amidst the black and rolling smoke of sin; where all along bow bitter
forms of endless dead?
          Awake, Thou that sleepest!
   Thou art not dead, but flown afar, up hills of endless light, thru
blazing corridors of suns, where worlds do swing of good and gentle
men, of women strong and free-far from the cozenage, black hypocrisy
and chaste prostitution of this shameful speck of dust!
          Turn again, O Lord, leave us not to perish in our sin!
   From lust of body and lust of blood
          Great God, deliver us!
   From lust of power and lust of gold,
          Great God, deliver us!
   From the leagued lying of despot and of brute,
          Great God, deliver us!
   A city lay in travail, God our Lord, and from her loins sprang twin
Murder and Black Hate. Red was the midnight; clang, crack and cry of
death and fury filled the air and trembled underneath the stars when
church spires pointed silently to Thee. And all this was to sate the
greed of greedy men who hide behind the veil of vengeance!
          Bend us Thine ear, O Lord!
   In the pale, still morning we looked upon the deed. We stopped our
ears and held our leaping hands, but they-did they not wag their heads
and leer and cry with bloody jaws: Cease from Crime! The word was
mockery, for thus they train a hundred crimes while we do cure one.
          Turn again our captivity, O Lord!
   Behold this maimed and broken thing; dear God, it was an humble
black man who toiled and sweat to save a bit from the pittance paid
him. They told him: Work and Rise. He worked. Did this man sin? Nay,
but some one told how some one said another did-one whom he had never
seen nor known. Yet for that man’s crime this man lieth maimed and
murdered, his wife naked to shame, his children, to poverty and evil.
          Hear us, O Heavenly Father!
   Doth not this justice of hell stink in Thy nostrils, O God? How long
shall the mounting flood of innocent blood roar in Thine ears and pound
in our hearts for vengeance? Pile the pale frenzy of blood-crazed
brutes who do such deeds high on Thine altar, Jehovah Jireh, and burn
it in hell forever and forever!
          Forgive us, good Lord; we know not what we say!
   Bewildered we are, and passion-tost, mad with the madness of a
mobbed and mocked and murdered people; straining at the armposts of Thy
Throne, we raise our shackled hands and charge Thee, God, by the bones
of our stolen fathers, by the tears of our dead mothers, by the very
blood of Thy crucified Christ: What meaneth this? Tell us the Plan;
give us the Sign!
          Keep not thou silence, O God!
   Sit no longer blind, Lord God, deaf to our prayer and dumb to our
dumb suffering. Surely Thou too art not white, O Lord, a pale,
bloodless, heartless thing?
          Ah! Christ of all the Pities!
   Forgive the thought! Forgive these wild, blasphemous words. Thou art
still the God of our black fathers, and in Thy soul’s soul sit some
soft darkenings of the evening, some shadowings of the velvet night.
   But whisper-speak-call, great God, for Thy silence is white terror
to our hearts! The way, O God, show us the way and point us the path.
   Whither? North is greed and South is blood; within, the coward, and without, the liar. Whither? To death?
          Amen! Welcome dark sleep!
   Whither? To life? But not this life, dear God, not this. Let the cup
pass from us, tempt us not beyond our strength, for there is that
clamoring and clawing within, to whose voice we would not listen, yet
shudder lest we must, and it is red, Ah! God! It is a red and awful
   In yonder East trembles a star.
     Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord!
   Thy will, O Lord, be done!
          Kyrie Eleison!
   Lord, we have done these pleading, wavering words.
          We beseech Thee to hear us, good Lord!
   We bow our heads and hearken soft to the sobbing of women and little children.
          We beseech Thee to hear us, good Lord!
   Our voices sink in silence and in night.
          Hear us, good Lord!
   In night, O God of a godless land!
   In silence, O Silent God.

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