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"When will I see my brother's face wearing another color?
When will I be ready to die in an honest fight?
When will I be conscious of the struggle – now to do or die?
When will these scales fall away from my eyes?"

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Margaret Walker

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Margaret Walker


Margaret Abigail Walker was born on July 7, 1915 in Birmingham, Alabama. Her parents, the Reverend Sigismund C. Walker, a Methodist minister and an educator, and Marion Dozier Walker, a music teacher, encouraged her to read poetry and philosophy from an early age.

In 1937, she published "For My People" in Poetry magazine. Her first poem to appear in print, it became one of her most famous and was even anthologized in 1941 in The Negro Caravan before becoming the opening poem of her first volume of verse in 1942.

In 1936, she took on full-time work with the Federal Writers' Project in Chicago, collaborating with such artists as Gwendolyn Brooks, Katherine Dunham, and Frank Yerby. Perhaps the most memorable of these friendships with fellow artists was that with author Richard Wright. In 1988, Walker would also write a book recalling that friendship, entitled Richard Wright, Daemonic Genius: A Portrait of the Man, a Critical Look at His Work. Involvement in the Writers' Project offered Walker a firsthand glimpse of the struggles of her inner-city brothers and sisters who were products of the Great Migration, a movement that had resulted in hard times and broken dreams for many southern black immigrants.

In 1949, Walker moved to Jackson, Mississippi with her husband and three children. Walker began a teaching career at Jackson State College in the same year, retiring from its English department thirty years later in 1979. In 1968 she founded the Institute for the Study of History, Life, and Culture of Black People (now the Margaret Walker Alexander National Research Center); she directed the center until her retirement. In 1966, she published her most famous novel, Jubilee (a neo-slave narrative based on the collected memories of her maternal grandmother, Elvira Ware Dozier). During her tenure at Jackson State, Walker also organized and chaired the Phillis Wheatley Poetry Festival. Following retirement, she remained active as professor emerita until her death in the fall of 1998.

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Margaret Walker with Eudora Welty

Margaret Walker with Eudora Welty