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Lullaby, Go To Sleep

James Ephraim McGirt 1874 ( Robeson County, Lumberton) – 1930 (Maple Cemetery, Greensboro)

I'll ne'er forget the day,
When I was young and gay,
A rolling 'round the floor in Tennessee;
From th' cotton field so white,
My ma would come at night,
And fondly hold me in her arms and say:

Go to sleep, baby mine,
Little birdie in your nest;
Humming bees have left the vine,
Go to sleep and take your rest.

In winter cold and chill,
At night, when all was still,
I'd wake to find her standing over me,
A smile upon her face,
A creepin 'round the place,
She'd tuck the cover over me, and sing:

Go to sleep, baby mine,
Little birdie in your nest;
Humming bees have left the vine,
Go to sleep and take your rest.

So many years have passed,
Since we assembled last,
That dear old soul has gone away to dwell.
If this whole world was mine,
The wealth I would decline,
If I could only hear my mother sing:

Go to sleep, baby mine,
Little birdie in your nest;
Humming bees have left the vine,
Go to sleep and take your rest.

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Submitted on May 13, 2011

56 sec read

James Ephraim McGirt

ames Ephraim McGirt, black poet, editor, and publisher, was born in Robeson County near the town of Lumberton. The son of Madison and Ellen Townsend McGirt, he grew up on the family farm and was sent to a private school near Lumberton. Later the family lived on a farm near Rowland before finally moving to Greensboro. There James attended public school, worked at odd jobs, and began to write verse. In 1892 he enrolled in Bennett College, a Methodist-affiliated institution then just outside Greensboro. What he did immediately afterwards is not known, but in the preface to his first book, Avenging the Maine, a Drunken A.B., and Other Poems (1899), he blamed exhausting manual labor and a lack of leisure time for the slimness of the volume and the feebleness of the verse. Whatever his employment, it did not prevent him from revising and enlarging the first edition of this work in 1900, as well as issuing in the next year a new collection of poems entitled Some Simple Songs and a Few More Ambitious Attempts. The publication in 1901 of a third revised and enlarged edition of Avenging the Maine by a Philadelphia printer rather than the Raleigh firm that had prepared the first two editions indicates the direction in which McGirt's ambitions would take him in 1903. After briefly residing in Hampton, Va., he established himself in Philadelphia where, in September 1903, he issued the first number of McGirt's Magazine, an illustrated monthly dealing with the activities of black Americans in art, literature, science, and general affairs. Although his duties as editor and publisher of the magazine consumed most of his time and all of his savings, McGirt continued to write music and poetry while living in Philadelphia. For Your Sweet Sake: Poems (1906), his third book of verse, testified to his abiding wish to win recognition for himself as a poet. In 1907 he published his last book, a volume of short stories entitled The Triumph of Ephraim. In 1909 McGirt's Magazine, reflecting its declining sales, changed from a monthly to a quarterly. A year later it ceased publication, as McGirt decided to return to Greensboro to join his sister in managing the Star Hair Grower Manufacturing Company. After accumulating a considerable amount of property in and around Greensboro, he became a realtor. At his death he was remembered as "one of the best-known Negro citizens of Greensboro." He was buried in Maple Cemetery. McGirt's contribution to literature was small. His first book of verse is, as he recognized, amateurish and undistinguished. His technical skill increased with each volume that he published, but he was never a sure metrist or a skilled rhymer. McGirt's understanding of the art of the short story was equally uncertain. The stories in The Triumph of Ephraim usually deal with problems or romantic love encountered by youthful and largely unindividualized black heroes and heroines. A few of his stories are set in North Carolina, but little particularity is given to these settings in McGirt's fiction. Unlike his poems, which, despite their lack of polish, often give evidence of deep personal feelings, McGirt's short stories reveal both the lack of experience and the uncertainty of purpose that together account for the author's brief and unsuccessful literary career. Neither McGirt nor any of his three siblings ever married. more…

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