The first time I'd ever heard about Dorie Miller was in high school, through the poem Negro Hero by Gwendolyn Brooks.
to suggest Dorie Miller
I had to kick their law into their teeth in order to save them.
However I have heard that sometimes you have to deal
Devilishly with drowning men in order to swim them to shore.
Or they will haul themselves and you to the trash and the fish
(When I think of this, I do not worry about a few
It is good I gave glory, it is good I put gold on their name.
Or there would have been spikes in the afterward hands.
But let us speak only of my success and the pictures in the
As well as the Negro weeklies. For I am a gem.
(They are not concerned that it was hardly The Enemy my fight
It was a tall time. And of course my blood was
Boiling about in my head and straining and howling and singing
Of course I was rolled on wheels of my boy itch to get at the gun.
Of course all the delicate rehearsal shots of my childhood
massed in mirage before me.
Of course I was child.
And my first swallow of the liquor of battle bleeding black air
dying and demon noise
Made me wild.
It was kinder than that, though, and I showed like a banner my
I loved. And a man will guard when he loves.
Their white-gowned democracy was my fair lady.
With her knife lying cold, straight, in the softness of her sweetflowing
But for the sake of the dear smiling mouth and the stuttered
promise I toyed with my life.
I threw back!—I would not remember
Entirely the knife.
Still—am I good enough to die for them, is my blood bright
enough to be spilled,
Was my constant back-question—are they clear
On this? Or do I intrude even now?
Am I clean enough to kill for them, do they wish me to kill
For them or is my place while death licks his lips and strides to
In the galley still?
(In a southern city a white man said
Indeed, I’d rather be dead;
Indeed, I’d rather be shot in the head
Or ridden to waste on the back of a flood
Than saved by the drop of a black man’s blood.)
Naturally, the important thing is, I helped to save them, them
and a part of their democracy.
Even if I had to kick their law into their teeth in order to do that
And I am feeling well and settled in myself because I believe it
was a good job,
Despite this possible horror: that they might prefer the
Preservation of their law in all its sick dignity and their knives
To continuation of their creed
And their lives.
Source: Gwendolyn Brooks, Blacks (Chicago: Third World Press, 1987), 48-50.