what makes a city

by William Hunter Maxwell

These tall buildings of steel and stone,
They’re not the city.        
These paved streets and gorgeous homes,
They’re not the city.        
This modern equipment and trappings high-tone,
That’s not the city.        
These cathedrals sublime with mighty domes,
They’re not the city.        
No! None of this is the city!
The city is not in steel nor stone,
Howe’er splendid that may be;        
The city is not in things alone,
That only express a material degree.        
The city is made of manhood worth,
The warp, woof, and web of life;        
Those whose labors while on earth
Help in lessening hate and strife;        
Human being with right heart-beats,
Men whose lives are lived for others;        
Folks who never play at cheats,
Or do aught to harm their brothers.        
What makes a city are folks who’re real,
Endowed with a spirit for the common weal.

William Hunter Maxwell was a groundbreaking journalist who founded the first African American newspaper in New Jersey, the Herald News.  He also worked as Sunday editor at the Newark Ledger and features editor at the Newark Star-Ledger, the first black writer to hold those positions. “What Makes a City” appeared in The Life to Live and Other Plainpoems (1937).

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