Published in 1969 by Haki R. Madhubuti's Third World Press, Don’t Cry, Scream is his third collection of poetry and begins with an introduction by Gwendolyn Brooks. Brooks addresses the most important contribution that Madhubuti makes to African American literary history: Madhubuti's poetry demonstrates his intense goal of enlightening Black people about the psychological, economical, political, and historical forces that stifle their well-being.
David Lloren's thorough profile of Haki Madhubuti, which appeared in the March 1969 issue of Ebony, followed the publication of Don’t Cry, Scream and was a major influence in bringing Madhubuti's work to the attention of a wide audience. Haki Madhubuti begins this third collection of poetry with a preface entitled “Black Poetics / for the many to come.” His spelling of “blackpoetry” and “blackpeople” as one word suggests that Blackness and humanity are inseparable or inextricable. For him, then, as a Black writer, the Blackness of his poetry is an inextricable aspect of his subject matter and of the ways in which he shapes his ideas. The first poem in the collection, entitled “Gwendolyn Brooks,” poetically captures the exchange of knowledge that took place when he and some of the other poets from OBAC (Organization of Black American Culture) met Brooks and ends with the idea of how the stereotyping of Gwendolyn Brooks as a “negro poet” completely fails to capture her greatness. In two related poems, “History of the Poet As a Whore (to all negro poets who deal in whi-te paronomasia)” and “a poem for negro intellectuals (if there bes such a thing),” he refers to Black poets who shun their commitment to the Black community as paper prostitutes and describes the “blk/man” and “blk/woman” actions needed to change the lives of “a people deathliving / in / abstract realities.”
Like the “negro intellectual” and the poet as whore, the Black man described in what perhaps remains one of Madhubuti's most well known poems, “But He Was Cool or: he even stopped for green lights,” is Black in appearance or form but has no substance or commitment. The strength of Madhubuti's dedication to Blackness in Don’t Cry, Scream lies in his use of Black music as poetic reference, in his use of revolutionary jazz musicians as cultural heroes (“Don’t Cry, Scream” and “blackmusic / a / beginning”), and in the poems that explore the evil associated with the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X (“Assassination” and “Malcolm Spoke / who listened?”). The most sustained poem in the collection, “Nigerian Unity / or little niggers killing little niggers (for brothers Christopher Okigbo & Wole Soyinka),” examines how the West's fight for gold in Africa and its commodification of Blackness underlay the Biafran Civil War in which the Yoruba fought the Igbo. Both Nigerian writers, Christopher Okigbo was an Igbo who joined the seceded Biafrans and was killed early in the war, and Wole Soyinka, a Yoruba who was opposed to the war, was arrested and jailed for the duration of the war for allegedly collaborating with the rebel Igbos. In this poem Madhubuti makes the connection between the commodification of Blacks in Africa and in the West and suggests how this commodification causes Blacks to fight each other.