June Jordan passed away on June 14, 2002, the world lost a prolific
poet and writer whose continual outrage at social injustices had
always been tempered by her profound, compassionate insight into
the human condition. Jordan gave everything she had to her writing,
right up to the point when her body finally succumbed to the ravages
of breast cancer.
of Us Did Not Die, published after Jordan passed away, brings
her poems and essays from the civil rights era on through her post-September
on suffering, hope, and the true meaning of justice.
to West Indian immigrant parents in Harlem in 1936, Jordan’s
writings on her life as an outspoken African American feminist were
undoubtedly among her most powerful.
an early essay, “Notes Toward a Black Balancing of Love and
Hatred,” Jordan addressed the internal strife afflicting African
Americans torn between King’s non-violence and Malcolm X’s
should take care so that we will lose none of the jewels of our
soul,” she wrote. “We must begin, now, to reject the white,
either/or system of dividing the world into unnecessary conflict.
For example, it is tragic and ridiculous to choose between Malcolm
X and Dr. King: each of them hurled himself against a quite different
aspect of our predicament, and both of them, literally, gave their
lives to our ongoing struggle. We need everybody and all that we
other older essays, including “Notes of a Barnard Dropout,”
Jordan’s words are as alive and relevant as they were when
she first wrote them in 1975.
seems unreasonable that more than 400 million people, right now,
struggle against hunger and starvation, even while there is arable
earth aplenty to feed and nourish every one of us,” Jordan
wrote. “It does not seem reasonable that the color of your
skin should curse and condemn all of your days and the days of your
children. It seems preposterous that gender, that being a woman,
anywhere in the world, should elicit contempt, or fear, or ridicule,
and serious deprivation of rights to be, to become, to embrace whatever
Jordan, who was beaten by her father as a child and who later lost
her mother to suicide, had the seemingly endless capacity to understand
the suffering of people of all backgrounds.
one of her more recent essays, “Hunting for Jews?,” Jordan
was able to pick apart the layers of hatred that helped to create
Buford O. Furrow, who attacked a community center in Los Angeles
in 1999, wounding several Jewish children.
“Letter to My Friend,” Jordan deftly tied the emotional
impact of the execution of Jewish journalist (and Wall Street
Journal correspondent) Daniel Pearl in Pakistan to the murder
of an innocent 24-year-old Palestinian Issa Faraj, who was playing
with his children in the West Bank when he was shot by Israeli soldiers.
Jordan’s work in the area of Israeli-Palestinian relations
never shied away from confronting the ugly realities and hard truths
of one of the most complicated ethnic battles in the modern era.
Yet her empathy for both groups came across, time after time, in
a manner that reflected her innate drive to understand the seeds
of hatred, discrimination, and distrust, whether between heterosexuals
and homosexuals, men and women, or African Americans and Euro-Americans.
the decades that took her from a 1950s-era interracial marriage
to an illustrious academic career at Yale University, Sarah Lawrence
College, and UC Berkeley, Jordan wrote three plays, a novel, five
children’s books, a memoir, and five volumes of political essays.
She took herself seriously as a writer, poet, parent, lover, and
teacher, but her true aim, as she told the San Francisco Chronicle
in 1999, was to “spawn as many poets as possible.”
self-declared radical for most of her adult life, Jordan never stopped
agitating and writing on behalf of those who, in one way or another,
had known what it meant to live on the margins of society. Yet Jordan
did so with a lightness, brilliance, and sensitivity that marked
her as one of the nation’s literary and intellectual greats.
with Emma Goldman,” she concluded in the provocative essay,
“A Couple of Words on Behalf of Sex (Itself).” “If
you can’t dance, it’s not my kind of revolution.”