Monday, January 20, 2014

There's never been equality for me, Nor freedom in this "homeland of the free."... A Poem For MLK Day

Lynching in Marion, Indiana
August 1930
Let America Be America Again

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, 
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!
From The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. Copyright © 1994 the Estate of Langston Hughes. 

Langston Hughes was born in 1902 in Joplin, Missouri. He wrote numerous books of poetry and prose, as well as eleven plays before his death in 1967. Hughes is known for his portrayals of black life from the twenties through the sixties. 

1 comment:

David H. Finke said...

So very painful to see that picture: the "Strange Fruit" which Midwesterners erroneously believed was only a Sin of the South. How convenient to forget that for decades the K.K.K. controlled a great deal of the politics of Indiana, and it's hard to find where Quakers stood up to the bigotry. (Not saying it didn't happen.)
But how inspiring to have the Poet speak the hard, unconfortable Truth -- that for large parts of our society, this was anything BUT a "Sweet Land of Liberty."

The raw, pervasive Terror conveyed by entrenched (and sometimes even casual and unthinking) Racism is still a daily fact of life for many people of color, particularly young males, who are vastly overrepresented in our criminal "justice" system.

Brent, if you are helping us even a little bit to face the shameful part of our collective past, and get past the self-congratuation of American Exceptionalism, you will in my view thereby be helping advance the Gospel, a message of Liberation of All Peoples, under God, the one who delivers from slavery.

I am grateful, Friend.