Harlem Hopscotch, Pride in our Trials


A portrait of Maya Angelou, best known as an American author and poet.

Maya Angelou’s poem, Harlem Hopscotch speaks to the struggles that African Americans face living in Harlem while expressing pride in being black.

Harlem Hopscotch is the last poem within Angelou’s Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘Fore I Diiie.  Maya Angelou was very well known during the black arts movement, which is the backdrop for the characters in The Cotillion. Harlem Hopscotch is a short poem with an AABB rhyme scheme and uses a description of  a hopscotch game to move it forward. Angelou intersperses a description of hopscotch with statements that describe barriers that people face.  An example of this comes from the lines: “Food is gone, the rent is due,/Curse and cry and then jump two” (“Harlem” 7-8).

Angelou uses vernacular that was common for African Americans in Harlem during the time of the Black Arts Movement.  These can be seen in the lines, “Good thing for the ones that’s got./Another jump, now to the left. Everybody for hisself” (Harlem 4).  Killens also uses the Harlem dialect in his novel, especially with the character Lumumba.

My take on this poem is that Angelou is making a comment on how many barriers African Americans face living in Harlem. The hopscotch game is made increasingly more difficult when the “food is gone, the rent is due” and “all the people out of work” (Harlem 7,9).  Dealing with these problems is made even more difficult when they come right after the other. Angelou writes, “In the air, now both feet down./Since you black, don’t stick around” (Harlem 5-6).  These lines tell the reader that once one problem occurs, another one will follow if you do not keep moving forward if you are black.

Although she describes many setbacks that African Americans face, Maya Angelou also expresses pride in her race. Harlem Hopscotch’s concluding line is, “They think I lost. I think I won” (14). Even after struggling and being at a disadvantage because of their skin color, the African American community should believe that they have won, and have pride in their identity.

Maya Angelou wrote Harlem Hopscotch around the time of the Black Arts Movement, which was the time period in Killens’ The Cotillion, and also uses vernacular similar to the characters in this novel. Harlem Hopscotch presents the many hardships that African Americans face, and also expresses pride in her black identity.

“Harlem Hopscotch by Maya Angelou.” Black Christian News. WordPress. Web. 19 March 2013.

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