62 years ago, on May 17, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court announced their decision on Brown v. The Board of Education declaring segregation in public schools unconstitutional.  On the anniversary of that historic day, Poetry Breakfast is honored to share with you “Gray River”, a poem by Patricia Beila.


Gray River

++++++++++++++channels cleave
+++++++++++++++++++++women with
+++++++++coats and hats
+++skin shades
++++++++++mouths shaped
++++++++++++++++like buttons
++++++++++sip thimblefuls
+++of fountained
++on opposite
++++++++sides of
++++++++++++the river
++++++++++if their
+++++hands dip
+++into the
+++at the same time
+++++++++++would the river


The idea for the poem “Gray River” was derived from “The Migration of the Negro (The Migration Series)” by Jacob Lawrence, Panel No. 19; exhibited in The Phillips Collection, Washington D.C. (May 3 – October 26, 2008) and located in the books Jacob Lawrence and The Migration Series from The Phillips Collection (odd numbered panels) edited by Elsa Smithgall and in Over the Line, The Art and Life of Jacob Lawrence edited by Peter T. Nesbett and Michelle Dubois. Currently, the 60 panel of artwork, portraying the epic event of southern African Americans migrating North, is shared between the Phillips Collection (odd numbered panels), Washington D.C. and The Museum of Modern Art (even numbered panels), in New York.

Sixty-two years ago, on May 17, 1954, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren delivered the unanimous ruling in the landmark civil rights case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. State-sanctioned segregation of public schools was a violation of the 14th amendment and was therefore unconstitutional.

About the Poet:
Patricia Biela is a native of Maryland and graduated from the University of Virginia with a BA in Psychology. Biela is a Cave Canem South Fellow and has participated in 18 writing workshops including Callaloo, Cave Canem South, How Writers Write Poetry–International Writing Program-The University of Iowa, Hurston/Wright, The Muse, Provincetown, and Dr. Tony Medina’s Poetry Boot Camp. Her poems appear in Barely South Review, Berkeley Poetry Review, The Caribbean Writer, Drumvoices Revue, and World Haiku Review among others. She has a poem exhibited in Epiphany Salon and Spa, D.C. She teaches a recurring poetry workshop to retirees.


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Photo by UpSplash.