This bit of relevant literature appeared in the Knoxville Journal & Tribune, in mid-October of 1918, during the worst of Knoxville’s experience with the “Spanish Flu” pandemic.
The poet is a local black man of whom we know little except that his name was Joe Bogle, and he seems to have lived along Patton Street with his small family.
It may need just a little context. Knoxville’s health authorities shut the city down for most of the month of October, especially its movie theaters, pool halls, dance halls, churches, and even the Tennessee Valley Fair. But they made one big exception, which may have been a mistake. To support the war effort, a three-day Liberty Bond drive, featuring multiple musicians and other entertainers, in a sort of “Carnival” arrangement, drew thousands from all over the city to a three-block stretch of Gay Street from about Wall to Church. This appeared just after the closing of the Carnival, when the city was reporting hundreds of new flu cases daily.
You may know that Vine, mentioned at the end, was then a long urban street lined with African American businesses. Some called it the Black Broadway.
During that month, more than 200 Knoxvillians died of the virus.
– Jack Neely
The Spanish Flu
“Listen here, children,” said Deacon Brown,
“There’s something new just struck this town
And it’s among the white and the colored, too
And I think they call it the Spanish Flu.”
They say it starts right in your head:
You begin to sneeze and your eyes turn red.
You then have a tight feeling in your chest,
And you cough at night and you just can’t rest.
Your head feels dizzy when you are on your feet;
You go to your table and you just can’t eat.
And if this ever happens to you,
You can just say you got the Spanish Flu.
Now, I got a brother and his name is John,
And he went to buy a Liberty Bond.
And he stopped to hear the big band play,
Upon the corner of Church and Gay.
But when he heard about the Flu–
It tickled me and would tickle you–
He bought his bond and went away:
Said he’d hear the band some other day.
But just as he got down on Vine,
He began to stagger like he was blind.
And a doctor who was passing by
Said, “What is the matter with this country guy?”
But as soon as he asked John a question or two,
He said, “Good night, you got the Spanish Flu.”