LET AMERICA BE AMERICA AGAIN
One of America's most loved poets, Hughes was born in Joplin, Missouri on February 1, 1902. The only child of divorced parents, he was raised by his grandmother until age 12 in Lawrence. She proved to be a great influence on his becoming a writer. From her he heard many stories about abolitionists and slaves who labored hard and struggled for their freedom. Hughes said, "Through my grandmother's stories always life moved heroically toward an end. Nobody ever cried in my grandmother's stories. They worked, or schemed, or fought. But no crying. When my grandmother died, I didn't cry, either. Something about my grandmother's stories (without her ever having said so) taught me the uselessness of crying about anything."His well known poem: "The Negro Speaks of Rivers" was published in Brownie's Books, and was his first publication. Hughes worked various jobs including assistant cook, launderer, and bus boy before becoming a crewman on the S.S Malone in 1923. Shortly afer publishing his first poem, other poems, short stories and plays of his started appearing in NAACP publication and in various magazines. In 1915 Hughes moved to Lincoln, Illinois to live with his mother and step-father, who later settled in Cleveland, Ohio. It was during his time in Lincoln that he started writing. After graduation he moved to Mexico for a year to visit his father, who didn't think it was a useful career and forced him to study engineering at Columbia University. He ended up dropping out after a short time with a B+ grade average and continuing with his writing career. He spent six months traveling to Africa and Europe. He then left the S.S. Malone and remained in Europe for a "vacation" in Paris. While in Europe, he joined the black expatriate community. Returning to America in Fall 1924. He wrote sixty books: sixteen of poetry, two novels, three collections of short stories, four volumes of "editorial" and "documentary" fiction, twenty plays, children's poetry, musicals and operas, three autobiographies, a dozen radio, tv scripts, dozens of magazine articles. He also edited seven anthologies. He left a pioneering legacy for African American poets to build upon.
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."
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,
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,
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!
"Let America Be America Again" is a poem written in 1935. It was originally published
in Esquire Magazine, July 1936, In 1937 it was re-published in Kansas Magazine and after revision,
it appeared in a small collection of Hughes's poems titled A New Song, published by International
Workers Order, 1938.