Thursday, February 28, 2013

A Room of My Own: A Tanka about the "3/5 Compromise"

written for Black History Month, which is celebrated  in North America in February

Emory President praised
the three-fifths compromise...
on the backs
of a row of black students
This is 5/5 outrageous

Note: "The 1787 three-fifths compromise allowed each slave to be counted as three-fifths of a person in determining how much Congressional power the Southern states would have."


  1. Here is the link to Dr. James Wagner's essay in the most recent issue of Emory Magazine,

    Here is the link to the New York Times piece, entitled Emory University’s Leader Reopens Its Racial Wounds, written by Kim Severson and Robbis Brown,

    Below is an excerpt from the article:

    Leslie Harris, a history professor and the director of a series of campus events that for five years examined issues of race at Emory, said she was more troubled by the intellectual holes in Dr. Wagner’s argument.

    In his column, Dr. Wagner used the Congressional fight over the national debt to muse on the importance of compromise, which he called a tool for noble achievement. “The constitutional compromise about slavery, for instance, facilitated the achievement of what both sides of the debate really aspired to — a new nation,” he wrote.

    That is a deep misunderstanding of history, Dr. Harris said.

    “The three-fifths compromise is one of the greatest failed compromises in U.S. history,” she said. “Its goal was to keep the union together, but the Civil War broke out anyway.”

  2. Below is an excerpt from my reply to one comment posted on a poetry forum:

    Historically speaking, the authorial note has always been used as a literary device, such as the note in "Howl," whose footnote is generally viewed by critics to be a functional Part IV of the poem.

    And read in the thematic context of the note, "5/5" carries politico-emotional weight to the poem.

    The sociopolitical significance of the image in the lower verse is the protesting words, not centuries-old scars, on the Backs of black students, not slaves.

    These descendants of former slaves can stand up to their ignorant president, who's is no longer the Master of their Bodies and Minds.