pioneers

by Leonard Harmon Robbins

Image: Frank Barcelos via tapinto.net

A Thanksgiving Reminder to a Grateful City

                                     I

Yes, Newark, praise them well!—the first to tread
        The river shore where stands thy busy town.
They followed where the shining Vision led,
From pride and persecution bravely fled,
        And laid thy deep and firm foundation down.

From out a rough and jealous wilderness,
        Praying, they fashioned homes for babe and wife.
In deprivation, loving God no less,
They lived such lives as He their Lord should bless,
        And, living nobly, gave thee noble life.

They loved thee well, thy Founder Pioneers,
        Those earnest, faithful women, fearless men;
To build thee true they spent their toil, their tears;
And now in these their city’s golden years,
        Listen! Their spirits call to thee again.

                                     II

“O Town of ours, proud of thy centuries,
        What folk are these who lift, and build, and mine—
What strange, new, striving multitudes are these
Amid thy maze where stood our wildwood trees?
        Behold, they, too, are Pioneers of thine!

“By Vision led, these other Pilgrim bands
        Come now to thee in hope, as once came we.
They flee the fettered and the failing lands
To proffer toil of eager heart and hands
        For life, and homes, and manly liberty.

“Their faith in thee is great as ours of old;
        Within thy gates they see a shelter sure,
A welcome refuge and a friendly fold
Where each his right to happiness may hold,
        May seek and find the peace that shall endure.

“Their struggles are as ours, O Newark Town!
        They are the Pioneers of times to be;
And God all-wise, from Heaven looking down,
Well knoweth He the virtue, the renown,
        The honor they and theirs shall bring to thee.

“Beloved City, in thy golden years
        Wouldst thou a debt of gratitude repay
For any toil of ours, for any tears?
Be kind to these thy newest Pioneers
        Who come to build thee glorious today!”

                                     III

So speak the Founders, and are heard no more.
        But hark!—up from the wilderness of walls
A joyous voice, deep as the ocean’s roar!
In answer to the Pioneers of yore
        The Spirit of the living city calls:

“Strong heart, stout arm, and willing, eager hand,
        These are my pride as in the Founders’ day.
Firm in the faith of honest toil I stand
And sound my challenge forth to every land,
        And will till earth and time shall pass away!

“Fear not! My yoke shall set my children free.
        For me their might of arm and heart and nerve
Shall bless the nations to the furthest sea;
And all my wealth of happiness shall be
        For these new souls who come to help me serve!”

The number of Newarkers exploded in the decades before and after 1900. Met by a flood of newcomers from eastern and southern Europe, census enumerators in 1890, 1900 and 1910 found that Newark’s population had swollen by 33, 35 and 41 percent respectively over the counts of ten years before. A 1909 tally revealed that three-quarters of the city’s residents were immigrants or children of immigrants.

The pressure of this human tide was felt in every facet of life, from education to public health to policing to politics. Anti-immigrant sentiment flared occasionally in the press and the streets. But the city economy, dependent on a cheap and plentiful labor supply, successfully absorbed and helped to assimilate generation after generation of new arrivals.

This poem appeared in the Newark Evening News on the eve of Thanksgiving Day 1916.

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