In honor of this past Sunday (2/1), being Langston Hughes’ 113th birthday, I would like to first say Happy Belated Birthday Uncle Langston!! The most influential poet I’ve ever known, I am so honored to have been raised on his deep words and powerful insight.
For this 1st Friday of the month, where we feature poetry in honor of #BlackFriday & #FlashbackFriday, I share with you one of my favorite poems by Langston Hughes. What I consider to be one of the most politically impactful poems Hughes’ ever wrote, ‘Let America Be America Again‘, is a poem every American should read.
Written in 1935, this poem was a response poem to Walt Whitman’s ‘I Hear America Singing’. Whitman’s poem spoke to the beautiful essence of the American dream, voiced in the music of the everyday American from the mechanic and wood-cutter, to the mother washing and girl sewing.
Hughes’ response poem, ‘Let America Be America Again‘, spoke volumes starting with the title. Hughes’ challenged the beautiful harmony of the song Whitman wrote of hearing. He blasted the truth of the forgotten Americans who never received their portion of the American pie.
“I will concur with sir Langston that, “America was never America to me.”
As we celebrate the wonderful magic of the chilling power and sobering truth ringing in each stanza of this poem, let us reflect on the America we live in and know of, today. Where do we stand in our acquisition of the same American dream Whitman heard singing all around him and Hughes’ found to be deferred and dried out?
Are we any closer to obtaining our piece of the pie? Does our world represent a more equally divided share of access to the dream we all share? Have we taken back our land yet? Eighty years later, has America become America again?
I ask that you consider the “poor white, fooled and pulled apart.” Remember “the negro bearing slavery’s scars.” And recall “the red man driven from the land” and “the immigrant clutching the hope I seek.” They are still here. Waiting. Just like they were when Hughes’ put pen to paper, to cultivate the words of our truth.
I will concur with sir Langston that, “America was never America to me.” So, in perfect timing with the state of the America we all know today, I believe this poem speaks life into the broken and yet, tragically beautiful story of her truest, America.
Let America be America again. Let it be the dream it used to be. Let it be the pioneer on the plain Seeking a home where he himself is free. (America never was America to me.) Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed— Let it be that great strong land of love Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme That any man be crushed by one above. (It never was America to me.) O, let my land be a land where Liberty Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath, But opportunity is real, and life is free, Equality is in the air we breathe. (There’s never been equality for me, Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”) Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark? And who are you that draws your veil across the stars? I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart, I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars. I am the red man driven from the land, I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek— And finding only the same old stupid plan Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak. I am the young man, full of strength and hope, Tangled in that ancient endless chain Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land! Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need! Of work the men! Of take the pay! Of owning everything for one’s own greed! I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil. I am the worker sold to the machine. I am the Negro, servant to you all. I am the people, humble, hungry, mean— Hungry yet today despite the dream. Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers! I am the man who never got ahead, The poorest worker bartered through the years. Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream In the Old World while still a serf of kings, Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true, That even yet its mighty daring sings In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned That’s made America the land it has become. O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas In search of what I meant to be my home— For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore, And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea, And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came To build a “homeland of the free.” The free? Who said the free? Not me? Surely not me? The millions on relief today? The millions shot down when we strike? The millions who have nothing for our pay? For all the dreams we’ve dreamed And all the songs we’ve sung And all the hopes we’ve held And all the flags we’ve hung, The millions who have nothing for our pay— Except the dream that’s almost dead today. O, let America be America again— The land that never has been yet— And yet must be—the land where every man is free. The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME— Who made America, Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain, Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain, Must bring back our mighty dream again. Sure, call me any ugly name you choose— The steel of freedom does not stain. From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives, We must take back our land again, America! O, yes, I say it plain, America never was America to me, And yet I swear this oath— America will be! Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death, The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies, We, the people, must redeem The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers. The mountains and the endless plain— All, all the stretch of these great green states— And make America again!