This Weekend Some White Lady Is Running a Tag Sale At John Hope Franklin's House

An original poem by Camille T. Dungy.

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This weekend some white lady is running a tag sale at John Hope Franklin's house

I take this to mean no one gives a flying fuck about me. I should

have written that with greater care. I shouldn't have cursed. I shouldn't

have relied on expected language (like flying) and I shouldn't have let my lines run

so long or allowed myself to make this all about me, but seriously

if some white lady can walk around the home of John Hope Franklin

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and tag all the books in that great man's library for sale, his furniture,

his paintings, even his light switch plates—ornate works of art themselves

according to the website this white lady created so she could

more easily sell off all those pieces of black art and literature

and culture and history John Hope Franklin very consciously collected

over the 96 years of his dedicated life—then it is abundantly clear

no one gives a fuck what I do or what I write or who I know or how I act or why

I believe that how I move through the world matters to this moment

or any moment after I am gone. Every time I fool myself

into believing that who we are (I'm saying black people) might be valued, America

finds a way to prove me wrong. Though, that's not entirely fair.

Some white lady is running an estate sale at the home of John Hope

Franklin, and someone is going to profit off the trappings of his life.

When Maya Angelou died, her house was opened also. Anyone

close enough to get to Winston Salem could take what they wanted

from her library which, I learned from someone who went

to the sale, had in it my own first two collections of poetry. I want

to believe there is something I could do to stop the sale that will go on

this Saturday at John Hope Franklin's house (when my own

grandfather led a church in Virginia, the white woman whose estate

established the town's library made a point of writing into the deed

a clause that refused the admission of any black man, woman

or child, and so my grandfather's parishioners saved their money

and established a fund to assure he could purchase the books

he needed in order to write the sermons they needed to hear,

which meant he died with a substantial library, though when the time came

to parcel out his effects I was too itinerant and poor to have the means

to make a viable bid for much of anything my aunt and uncle sold), but

if I think my anger matters that would be my first mistake. I want

some institution, or Oprah, or that one rich black man I once read about

who lives in North Carolina and collects black art to show up

with a check big enough on Saturday morning to keep John Hope

Franklin's collection intact—all those books signed directly

to the historian by writers who believed in the creation of a field

of scholarship dedicated to the study of black lives. Though I am nothing

but a fool. The word field in a sentence about black history

makes me think of slavery times. Of sharecropper times. Of convict

lease programs—which really never stopped. These are the only legacies

many people can summon up where black folks are involved.

Camille T. Dungy is the author of Trophic Cascade (Wesleyan University Press, 2017) and three other collections of poetry. Her debut essay collection, Guidebook to Relative Strangers: Journeys into Race, Motherhood, and History (W. W. Norton), will be published in June.

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