July is a significant month in the history of noted poet Langston Hughes, for one of his most well-known poems, “Let America Be America Again,” was published in the July 1936 issue of #EsquireMagazine. We revisit this important work now for its vision of building a better today.
In “Let America Be America Again, #LangstonHughes implores to “[l]et it be the dream it used to be. Let it be the pioneer on the plain, seeking a home where he himself is free.” In these words, Hughes highlights the reality of two Americas–the physical space and the ideal/dream. Here Hughes acknowledges that the America in which we live is far removed from its founding vision, for in this self-proclaimed land of #opportunity, “kings [still] connive” and “tyrants [still] scheme” in pursuit of both #power and #privilege. In the process, the pioneer struggles to find a home “where he himself is free,” for even in this land of #liberty, there are restrictions on one’s mobility and barriers to accessing the #AmericanDream. It is because of this that, for Hughes, “(America never was America to me.)”
I have often wondered, though, why Langston Hughes buried these words in parentheses like a perpetual aside. Was it because these are the words one dare not speak in a society too quick to label him anti-American? #LetAmericaBeAmericaAgain is, then, one of Hughes’ most powerful works, I argue, because it challenges that tradition of #silence, asserting in the second to last stanza that while “America never was America to me,” “I swear this oath–America will be!” His words, inspirited with #revolution and the promise of building an America that lives up to its “mighty dream,” are not merely a rallying cry for a better tomorrow in which we “redeem the land, the mines, the plants, the rivers…and make America again!” It is a charge to begin that work this instant in order to build a better today “where every man is free.” And this proves all the more important in the modern world where active efforts to silence and erase (like the anti-#CRT push) threaten that possibility. In the end, we worked too hard for too long to hone our voices to die with them stifled inside us, just as our ancestors who tilled this land, raised its buildings, and nourished its seedlings with their blood sacrificed too much for dreams to “dry up like a raisin in the sun.”
Copyright(c) 2021 by Christopher Allen Varlack