The book-length poem One With Others [a little book of her days] by C. D. Wright is a tribute to dead friend and mentor Margaret Kaelin McHugh, an obscure Arkansas civil-rights activist who, in 1969, crossed the color line to support black activists making a now forgotten march from W. Memphis to Little Rock.
In the poem McHugh is known only as “V” (a nickname given her by a young Carolyn Wright and other students at a Memphis College). The students rescued V from abject poverty in a Memphis slum where she was living after being ostracized by her family and community for her singular act of opposition to the fiercely held Jim Crow laws in Arkansas. The students brought V onto their campus to live and later helped her relocate to the North. Thus began a lifelong friendship between V and the author that ended with V’s death in 2004 in Hell’s Kitchen.
After McHugh’s death, the author went to Arkansas to seek out people who knew McHugh and who had participated in the march. Snippets from their responses to the author’s questions about the march and civil-rights protests of the time are the building blocks on which this book length poem is developed.
One With Others is an experimental poem composed of the responses to the author’s questions interspersed with comments in square brackets . The persons who are quoted in the poem are identified only by a brief descriptive name. Here is V describing the march:
The marchers step off from the jailhouse at Bragg’s Spur, 8:17 a.m. More police than reporters. More reporters than police.
The self-described Prime Minister of the Invaders, 31, and five others have begun their trek. SWEET WILLIE WINE’S WALK AGAINST FEAR is on the move.
V: We had the water and the shoes in my car. There was a black man named Stiles. [He was a midget.] He kept that water good and cold [for the marchers].
“The threat they say is coming from the east” [of the six Negroes walking to Little Rock and the white woman driving a station wagon].
It was something you came through that.
V: It was invigorating. It was the most alive I ever felt in my life.
FBI followed me for a long time. Stringers for the Gazette and the Appeal trailed me for a year. Once every ten or twelve years, I will get a caller. I used all of my life. I told my friend Gert, you’ve got your life until you use it.
Quoted from One With Others [a little book of her days], Copper Canyon Press, 2010
This poem is subtitled: a little book of her days; in those days of Jim Crow law, I have no doubt that the six marchers and V, a white woman behind the wheel of their support vehicle, put their lives on the line for their beliefs.
Wright’s long poem recalls obscure and mostly forgotten actors to the stage, and their story reminds us all of the long struggle for civil rights and equality in America. This is an emotional story movingly presented by the author and her cast of characters from Arkansas’ past.
Day 42: One With Others (C. D. Wright) (2010).
1. CD Wright, professor of Literary Arts at Brown University, is winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry for One With Others.
Wright was born and raised in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas. She has published over a dozen books many of which were published by Copper Canyon Press.
2. The Encyclopedia of Arkansas is a free, authoritative source of information about the rich history, geography, and culture of Arkansas. It is updated regularly to ensure the people of Arkansas have an accurate and accessible resource to explore our heritage.
The Encyclopedia of Arkansas: History & Culture provides the following timeline:
- 1964 – Arkansas Voter Project concludes that only 42 percent of black voters are registered.
- 1964 – A basset hound named Harvey is found to have paid the poll tax and is registered to vote in three counties.
- 1964 (June) – Congress approves the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
- 1965 – Federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 passes.
- 1967 (August 9) – Statistics indicate that 83.4 percent of black students still attend segregated schools.
- 1968 (April 4) – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is assassinated in Memphis.
- 1969 – United States Department of Health, Education and Welfare begins filing desegregation lawsuits in Arkansas.