The cage door was always open, but the little bird wouldn't come out. He loved the cage, he had been in it so long. Other birds would fly into the white house and beg the little bird to come out, but he wouldn't. Sad, the other birds would fly away home to paradise, their hearts white with anger and sorrow for their lost brother who loved the cage. "He is so hard-headed, "the other birds said on their way home, "but we will get him out, we will get him out...." He was a smart bird. Nobody could tell him anything—except his master.
He could sing too. When the master sang, the little bird sang. He knew all of the master's songs by heart. He didn't like to sing bird songs. From all around, people came to see him do tricks. The little bird knew a lot of tricks the master had trained him to do when visitors came to the white house. He was a good house pet.
The little bird was so good his master always left his cage door open; he knew the little bird had forgotten what freedom was. "Come, fly away to freedom with us," the other birds would say. But the little bird didn't want to go for self! "I like being in a cage," he said. "You birds are the crazy ones—get away from me!!!"
For days and days, the black bird would sit in the cage looking at himself in the mirror. "He is such a beautiful black bird," all the visitors said. "Yes," the master said, "I have a good bird." To himself, the master said, "This little black fool has made me rich doing tricks and he's too dumb to fly away to freedom—what a stupid bird!"
The master would feed the bird crumbs from his table. The little bird loved the crumbs so much he wouldn't eat anything else, not even when the other birds sneaked into the master's house and offered the little bird some righteous soulfood.
One day the master's house caught on fire. Nobody knew how the fire started, not even the little black bird. The master fought hard to put the fire out, but there were too many flames, so he ran outside, leaving the little black bird behind. The flames grew bigger and bigger, but the little black bird just sat in his cage. Maybe he was waiting for his master to return....
Then, suddenly, a friendly bird flew into the burning white house, "Black bird!" he yelled, "don't you know the house is on fire??? Hurry—come fly away with me!" "But I love my cage," the black bird cried, "I want to stay!"
"You want to burn," said the friendly bird. The friendly bird went into the cage, grabbed the black bird and flew away from the burning house. "Bye, master," the black bird yelled as he passed his master who was crying in the yard. "Bye, master," the little bird called out again—he was on his way home.
(c)1968, 2007 by Marvin X
The Black Bird is Marvin X's classic fable written in 1968. Many children were taught this story by conscious parents, including journalist Wanda Sabir of the San Francisco Bayview newspaper.
Black Bird is also a one-act play and one of the classic plays of the Black Arts Movement and Muslim American literature. See New Plays from the Black Theatre by Ed Bullins and the preface by Lorenzo Thomas (rip) to Love and War, poems by Marvin X, 1995, Black Bird Press, Berkeley. It is currently being taught in a class on the Black Arts Movement at University of California, Berkeley.