The title announces the event described in the poem: the lynching of a black man, already burned to a char by an angry mob. Opening lines emphasize ascendency of spirit, from the "swinging char" to the father in heaven in whose bosom the hanged man will dwell. The spiritual tone is replaced, however, by an account of the cruelties inflicted on this tortured man and the behavior of sorrowless women and children dancing around the "dreadful thing in fiendish glee."


Class discussions of cultural differences, distinctions, and commonalities usually include an examination of the impact of historical events contributing to cultural shapes and expressions. McKay's poem recounts a grisly chapter of history to portray what can happen when groups are subordinated or marginalized. African-Americans continue to struggle for equality, especially in education and healthcare. While the lynched man is dead, a diseased or infected population remains to endanger the well-being of the fragile social fabric.


First published: 1920

Primary Source

Selected Poems of Claude McKay


G. K. Hall: Twayne

Place Published