“If Only” by Lolita Stewart-White

Lolita Stewart-White


for Willie Edwards

If only it hadn’t been 1957
in a wooded area near Alabama, but it was;
or missing black folks hadn’t been looked for less
than missing shoes, and they weren’t;
or if only those Klansmen hadn’t gathered,
intent on finding a black man, and they were,
or if only they hadn’t stopped him on that gravel road,
or beaten him until they could see the white beneath his skin,
or marched him at gun point onto that bridge, and they did;
or if only they hadn’t said, “Bet this nigger can’t swim,”
or hooted and hollered as he fell from fifty feet,
or laughed as he vanished in the river’s moonlight, but they did;
or if only his death hadn’t been ruled suicide, and it was,
or his murderers hadn’t been set free, and they were,
or the daughter he left behind hadn’t had to live her life without him,
but she did.

from Rattle #39, Spring 2013
Tribute to Southern Poets


Lolita Stewart-White (Florida): “In 2007, I read a haunting newspaper article about the FBI reopening 100 unsolved Civil Rights cold cases. These cases, entitled ‘The Forgotten,’ involved black people who were murdered during the Civil Rights movement. Their stories moved me to write a series of poems. It is my small way of preserving the memory of Willie Edwards and others.”

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