As Black History Month approaches, Langton Hughes’ poem ‘Let America Be America Again’ encourages us to consider where we have been (from pre-colonization; to 1776; to 1936; to 2018). Hughes graced us with an expansive repertoire of poetry, among many other forms of literature (novels; plays). Literature was often the mode of his social activism-celebrating and elevating Black people in America. Through art and activism, let this year’s Black History Month be a re-commitment to our past, present, and future.
‘Let America be America Again’ captures the dialogue between those who dream of a great America and others who know that most dreams of America either exclude them or include them in bondage. ‘Let America Be America’ ultimately asks the reader to reflect on what it has meant and what does it mean for America to be America? The conclusion is a call to redeem the natural state of this great country, which has been lost. Hughes’ 1936 poem ‘Let America Be America Again’ is ever haunting, ever relevant, and ever a call to reflect on how far we have come and how far we have to go.
Let America be America Again
by Langston Hughes (Abridged) (1936)
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.)
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 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.”
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.
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