To bring our celebration of National Poetry Month to a close, we have a special treat from Jessie Fields. She recorded her final selection.
Jessie says, “Let America Be America Again” is one of my favorite poems. I had the great pleasure of reading this poem aloud for a community organizing event on independent politics in Chicago many years ago. The first poem I ever read was a Langston Hughes poem and I remember the immediate connection and joy I felt at discovering this art form.
So, click on this gorgeous recording of Jessie reading “Let America Be America Again”. The music is Blue in Green (Miles Davis, Bill Evans) from the album Kind of Blue. A special thanks to David Belmont and Michael Walsh for producing this recording for us.
Let America Be America Again
by Langston Hughes
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!
Here is a brief note on the life of the great American poet, Langston Hughes.
Langston Hughes (1901 – 1967)
Langston Hughes grew up in Lawrence, Kansas with a grandmother, Mary Langston, whose first husband, Sheridan Leary, had died in 1859 in the raid led by John Brown that attempted to overtake the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry and start a slave insurrection. As a young man Hughes read a great deal including Walt Whitman, W.E.B. Dubois, and Carl Sandburg. From 1921 when his poem “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” was printed in Dubois Crisis magazine to the time of his death in 1967 LangstonHughes wrote poetry, short stories, novels, plays, essays, autobiographies and more. He traveled widely including to the Soviet Union and in America in the 1930’s he was hounded because of his radical political views. In the postwar years he settled in Harlem and lived there for the rest of his life.
His voice still reverberates across America calling attention to the ongoing chasm between American democratic ideals and American reality.
The poem “Let America Be America Again” was published in the magazine Esquire and in the International Worker Order Pamphlet, A New Song, in 1938.
In a 1943 speech, during World War ll,Hughes said, “…America is a land of transition. And we know it is within our power to help in its further change toward a finer and better democracy than any citizen has known before. The American Negro believes in democracy. We want it real, complete, workable, not only for ourselves – the fifteen million dark ones –but for all Americans all over the land.”