Page:Harlem Shadows (1922).djvu/16

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xii
Introduction

now—for they agreed that if they were divided and sold away into different parts of the country they would all kill themselves. And this fact solemnly announced in the market by the oldest white-haired Negro among them, had such an effect upon prospective buyers that it was impossible to sell them as individuals, and so they were all taken away together to those hills at Clarendon which their descendants still cultivate. With the blood of these rebels in his veins, and their memory to stir it, we cannot wonder that Claude McKay's earliest boyish songs in the Jamaica dialect were full of heresy and the militant love of freedom, and that his first poem of political significance should have been a rally-call to the street-car men on strike in Kingston. He found himself by an instinctive gravitation singing in the forefront of the battle for human liberty. A wider experience and a man’s comprehension of the science of history has only strengthened his voice and his resolution.

Those early songs and the music he composed for them, were very popular in Jamaica. Claude McKay was quite the literary prince of the island for a time—a kind of Robert Burns among his