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Overview

“If We Must Die” is a sonnet by the Jamaican poet and novelist Claude McKay. McKay wrote the poem in response to the infamous “Red Summer” of 1919, during which the United States experienced an upsurge in brutal anti-Black violence. Though the poem’s speaker doesn’t reference this violence directly, they do speak powerfully to the importance of resisting oppression. Only through such resistance can beleaguered communities maintain their sense of dignity and honor. This theme of resistance has made McKay’s poem meaningful for many oppressed groups around the world, and particularly in the Black diaspora.

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