Still Moving

When June Jordan spoke out for Palestine

By Doreen St. Felix

Portrait of a woman seated on a chair

In Oakland, an eternal June Jordan looks to her right — toward the future — fixing her gaze on the Palestinian flag. The painter of the mural has placed a Black power fist to Jordan’s left, with a keffiyeh flowing between and wrapping her shoulders. The ending declaration of her poem, “Moving Towards Home, 1982,” is printed along the scarf’s edges. 

Jordan wrote the poem after reading an account of the Sabra and Shatila massacre that Israel unleashed upon the Palestinian people exiled to a refugee camp in Beirut during Israel’s invasion of Lebanon. Averse to the politics of pity, in this poem she wills herself not to speak of the atrocities. Instead, the speaker surrenders her Black American woman’s voice to the unnamed mother in the epitaph, who asks for her son Abu Fadi to be returned to her.   

Picture of a mural of June Jordan the Palestine flag, and black power fist
Courtesy of Corleone Brown / Unsplash

This is what Jordan, who died tragically of breast cancer in 2002, asks of us from the land of the dead: to give our voices over to our Palestinian brothers and sisters. To be willing to be possessed. Jordan brought us “Moving Towards Home” and her many other writings dedicated to the liberation of Palestine at great personal cost, as did many of her Black feminist peers. Throughout the 1980s, Jordan’s work was rejected by presses that had previously published her, and she was made a pariah by agents in the women’s movement, who charged her with antisemitism. Jordan held firm to a vision of Black radicalism that was international in its scope, even as a sense of interconnected struggle in continental America lost its grounding.   

Jordan resisted the pull of American exceptionalism; she felt that the fate of Black people in the States was linked eternally to the fate of Palestinians, two peoples facing the same empire. A new generation feels the same pull. Some young lovers of liberation quote her exhortation today without knowing that they are quoting her: “I am born a Black woman and now. / I am become a Palestinian.” Language lives.

Doreen St. Félix is a writer for the New Yorker. She has been awarded the National Magazine Award for Criticism.