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On "Let America Be America Again"

James Presley

"Let America Be America Again," published in Esquire and in the International Worker Order pamphlet A New Song (1938), pleads for fulfillment of the Dream that never was. It speaks of the freedom and equality which America boasts, but never had. It looks forward to a day when "Liberty is crowned with no false patriotic wreath" and America is "that great strong land of love." Hughes, though, is not limiting his plea to the downtrodden Negro; he includes, as well, the poor white, the Indian, the immigrant--farmer, worker, "the people" share the Dream that has not been. The Dream still beckons. In "Freedom's Plow" he points out that "America is a dream" and the product of the seed of freedom is not only for all Americans but for all the world. The American Dream of brotherhood, freedom, and democracy must come to all peoples and all races of the world, he insists.

[. . . .]

Throughout Hughes's life--and his literary expression--the American Dream has appeared as a ragged, uneven, splotched, and often unattainable goal which often became a nightmare, but there is always hope of the fulfilled dream even in the darkest moments. During World War II Hughes, commenting on the American Negroes' role in the war, recognized this. ". . . we know," he said in a 1943 speech reprinted in The Langston Hughes Reader (1958),

that 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 dm any citizen has known before. The American Negro believes in democracy. We want to make it real, complete, workable, not only for ourselves--the fifteen million dark ones--but for all Americans all over the land.

The American Dream is bruised and often made a travesty for Negroes and other underdogs, Hughes keeps saying, but the American Dream does exist. And the Dream must be fulfilled. In one of his verses he put it more plainly. He might have been speaking to his harshest political critics or to the white youths who beat him up on that long-ago summer day in Chicago.

Listen, America--
I live here, too.
I want freedom
Just as you.

From "The American Dream of Langston Hughes." Southwest Review (1963).

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