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Book of the Week — Furrows

In the furrows
of the world
the paths
of planting
the hoe-trails
of our people
can only be
from what we are…”

Charlie Cobb (b. 1943)
Tougaloo, Miss: Flute Publications, 1967
PS3553 O17 F8 1967

Charlie Cobb came of age during the 1950s — during the time of Board vs. Brown and the events in Little Rock, Arkansas and Montgomery, Alabama. Among his memories there are also global issues, the independence of Ghana, the Mau Mau struggle in Kenya, and conflicts in the Congo. All these things gathered in Charlie Cobb’s consciousness as he was growing up so that by the time he reached college in the 1960s, it was not surprising that he found himself among the student sit-in movement that had spread across the country. 

Charles E. Cobb, Jr. was born in Washington, D.C. The son of a Methodist minister, he enrolled in the African American program at Howard University in 1961. He left school a year later to serve as field secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Active in several southern states, he was heavily involved in the struggle for voting rights in Mississippi. Additionally, the group’s awareness of Africa was beginning to expand; first, after meeting the vice president of Kenya, Oginga Odinga and later after Harry Belafonte organized a trip for SNCC members and other organizations to the continent. Passionate discussions surrounding power and alternatives arose just as the civil rights movement was reaching its peak.

He worked for SNCC for five years, until 1967. That same year his first book of poetry, Furrows, was published. Illustrated with his own photographs, these poems reflect his civil rights work and his 1967 visit to Vietnam as an anti-war advocate. The poems were written in lyrical free verse with little capitalization or punctuation, and expressed concern, anger, and hope. Cobb wasn’t the only poet among the SNCC, other writers included Jane Stembridge and Worth Long. Stembridge’s I Play Flute inspired the name Flute Publications. Furrows was printed by Henry J. Kirksey, who would go on to become one of the first African-American members of the state legislature.

Cobb later worked with the Center for Black Education from 1968 to 1969. He began work as a reporter for WHUR radio in 1974, and joined the staff of National Public Radio as foreign affairs reporter in 1976. From 1987 to 1997, Cobb was a National Geographic staffer. In 2008 he was inducted into the National Association of Black Journalists Hall of Fame. He is the co-author of Radical Equations: Civil Rights from Mississippi to the Algebra Project and the author of On the Road to Freedom: A Guided Tour of the Civil Rights Trail, among other titles. He is visiting professor of Africana Studies at Brown University and Senior Writer and Diplomatic Correspondent for, the leading online provider of news from and about Africa.

1 Comment
  • Marnie
    Posted at 17:53h, 08 February Reply

    Thanks for sharing this incredible work, Lyuba!

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