“Ballad of Sam Solomon” by Langston Hughes
The poem “Ballad of Sam Solomon” is about suffrage. The poem essentially tells the experience of a black guy who actively campaigned for the right to vote on Election Day. In the poem, Sam Solomon is opposed by his white colleagues, who ban him from voting. Nonetheless, he rallies other black guys and votes on the due date. In Hughes’ attempt to illustrate the power of a united Black society, numerous themes emerge in the poem. In “Ballad of Sam Solomon,” a black man utilises his voice to battle for his right to vote and mobilises his fellow black men and women to vote.
The Ballad of Sam Solomon brings African-American political consciousness and its claim to political rights to the fore. The poem criticises whites for their intimidation and physical violence. On the other hand, it affirms the manhood of African-Americans. The poem’s content is conveyed via a dialogue that demonstrates Sam Solomon’s defiant reciprocity. The poem, on the other hand, is focused on two absent forces: the Ku Klux Klan and the African-American masses. Sam and the white crackers serve as illustrative figures.
The impersonal rendering of the African-American predicament in the poem helps to define Sam’s character as an African-American. As a result, Sam confronts white crackers as follows: “You may call out the Klan/But you must’ve forgotten/That a Negro is a MAN” (Rampersad 295). The “Klan” and the “Negro” construct a political power balance that controls the entire poem.
The rhyming words “Klan” and “man” result in irony. The Klan adherents are aggressive and degrading. On the other hand, the African-American is strong enough to face the truth.
The poem reveals the new standing of the African-American who want to control his own affairs. He primarily strives for political equality:
A few years ago,
Negroes never voted but
Sam said, it's time to go
To the polls election day
And make your choice known
Cause the vote is not restricted
To white folks alone.
The African-American political claim highlights a fundamental distinction in the role that has been imposed on them in the past. The remark “a few years ago” reflects a history of slavery and persecution in which African-Americans were deemed nothing more than “objects” whose existence is essential only since they serve the white man. ‘It is time to go,’ denotes the new African-American who is well aware of everything and is constantly on the lookout, ready to take appropriate action. The rhyming terms ‘ago’ and ‘go’ add to the analogy by referring to the past and present, respectively. The most important step is ‘to make your choice known,’ which validates African-American political existence. It is these people’s freshly formed choice that carries the parallel to its logical conclusion. The poem as a whole prepares us for the encounter with an imposed aloneness that makes voting a solely white privilege.
Thematic Analysis of Ballad of Sam Solomon
Ballad of Sam Solomon” demonstrates Hughes’ intent to be a documentary poet, focusing on the struggle for suffrage by Blacks in Miami, Florida.
The ballad commemorates Sam 245 Solomon’s political organising; also, it is designed to inspire Black people to organise their actions by encouraging them with example, facts, values, and ideas. The framing refrain (1-4, 53-56) encapsulates the reinvention of Black people’s identity through their action of voting despite their fear of the Ku Klux Klan and the comfortable Southern white caricature, “black boy” Sam begins by rallying his supporters (5-24). Then, in dialogue (25-40) and action (41-48), his retorts to “the crackers” threats make him a heroic leader. The speaker of “Color” expresses his satisfaction in being Black with a balanced set of suppositions, each with contrasting similes:
I would wear it
Like a banner for the proud-
Not like a shroud.
I would wear it
Like a song soaring high-
Not moan or cry.
The poem’s central theme is suffrage, or the right to vote in a political election. The right to vote is related with a type of empowerment in the poem, with the black community seeking it and the white community attempting to prevent them from obtaining it. Sam Solomon is the poem’s most memorable character because of his perseverance in attaining such empowerment. He believes in his right to vote and refuses to be discouraged from voting in political elections: “Sam said, It is time to go/ to the polls election day/and make your choice known/cause the vote is not restricted/ to white folks alone” (8-12). Despite his race, Sam Solomon believes he is entitled to the same level of empowerment that his white peers receive as a result of voting. The strength of a black man’s voice is evident in this poetry, as voting in a political election is a manner of speaking out. The capacity to choose one’s leaders empowers and provides a person with a voice.
Another option is black suppression. It is clear throughout the tale that the black minority is oppressed in the current circumstances (De Santis107). Despite the fact that all black people are free, many are afraid to vote in a political election. The poet alludes to the Ku Klux Klan, a long-standing organisation that has advocated for white supremacy since its inception. When Sam Solomon declares his intention to vote in the elections, he is met with hostility and threats of retaliation from the Klan:
“The crackers said, Sam/if you carry this through/ain’t no telling what; we’ll do to you” (Hughes 25-28). Sam Solomon makes a stance and vows to restore his right to vote in elections. To dispel the dangers, he uses his voice. Furthermore, Sam recalls a time when black people were not allowed to vote: “The fact we never voted/in the past/is something that surely/ain’t due to last” (13-16).
Sam Solomon’s voice and nature embody the ideals of courage and resilience. Sam Solomon is portrayed by the poet as a black man who is tired of being treated as a second-class citizen in his own nation. Sam Solomon, in this way, represents all black people who have been denied their rights and forced to live in oppression. They were adamant about reclaiming their power and having a say in elections. Sam demonstrates bravery and perseverance as he mobilises his fellow black people who are hesitant to vote: “Negroes never voted/Sam said, it is time to go/to the polls election day/and make your choice known” (7-10). Sam Solomon is a remarkable black man who has discovered his voice despite adversity. “They called out the Klan/they had a parade/but Sam Solomon was not afraid/on Election Day/he led his coloured delegation/to take their rightful part/in the voting of a nation,” he says (41-48).
Democracy and freedom are also mentioned in the poem. Democracy and freedom are two mutually exclusive ideals. Elections are symbols of democracy. Every citizen has a voice in a democracy. The poet tries to encourage the black community to use its democratic right to vote on Election Day. Hughes utilises this poem to remind the black population that they, too, are humans who deserve to have their leaders elected. Hughes chooses Sam Solomon as the vessel to convey this message. “Sam Solomon said/go get out your Klan/but you must have forgotten/a Negro is a MAN,” Sam reminds the black people that they are now free, and it is time to act like free men by voting in the elections: “Sam Solomon said/go get out your Klan/but you must have forgotten/a Negro is a MAN” (53-56).
Hughes’ “Ballad of Sam Solomon” is a way for him to strengthen the black community. Sam Solomon encourages his fellow black guys to vote on Election Day, despite the challenges they face from white voters. He tells them that they have a voice and should utilise it to vote for a leader.