Around the time my father William Kelley Sr. became the Editor-in-Chief of the important New York Amsterdam News , in September 1922 he started a little magazine he called Kelley’s Magazine.
Barely larger than a pamphlet, eight pages and the size of an open hand, my father wrote most of the copy. I guess he intended it as a cultural periodical that one could carry in a coat pocket. It had a little bit of this and a little bit of that, including a poem by Claude McKay, If We Must Die.
I can’t say that it was the first time the poem saw publication, but it was among the first of many. Written by a Jamaican ex-policeman public school teacher, the poem expressed my father’s attitude towards the struggle of the time in contrast to the dominant, less-militant attitude of most Negroes.
I believe that my father must have known Claude McKay, because of his fascination with Jamaican relative success and the 91% positive attitude he had towards the philosophy of Marcus Garvey, which was a minority view among Negroes.
Kelley’s Magazine did not last very long, while Claude McKay’s writing gained more and more respect. The poem went out into the world where it stirred the hearts of many, including surprisingly enough, that ole colonialist, Winston Churchill.
When Hitler and the Germans declared war on Britain, and the English people became demoralized during the Blitz, Churchill looked around for a way to respond to the attacks. I think it ironic that the poem, which was a response to the daily indignities inflicted upon Negroes in America should be the poem that Winston Churchill chose to deliver to the British Parliament.
“If we must die, let it not be like hogs
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,
…Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!”
Ninety-two years later, we are all proud to present to the world a new, digital version of Kelley’s Magazine.
Welcome to the vortex.