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As I often told my students, America is far from perfect. During its 236 years history, Americans have honored the founding principles and purposes as often in the breach as in the observance.  Nonetheless, these ideals are the hidden strength and secret hope of the Republic. When we have almost hit bottom and shone the world the worst of ourselves, these ideals shine out to us and draw us back toward what America was meant and ought to be.  Beginning in 2012, we, the people, must arise all over these and make America again as it might and out to  be.  Let us read and listen to the words Langston Hughes. Words written at a low point in the history of the Republic. Let us ensure America will finally “be the dream the dreamers dreamed.”

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!

Langston Hughes, 1935

© 2012, Larry Conley. All rights reserved.

Larry Conley (36 Posts)

I am a veteran of the U. S. Army. My good fortune is to be married to a wonderful woman and have two remarkable twin sons who are making their way in the world. I taught civics in a Pittsburgh area middle school. I am a cat and dog lover.


5 Comments

  1. Larry, what a beautiful poem and presentation! There is so much here to ponder, dwell upon and absorb, lest we ever forget. Thank you for sharing this. Your students were blessed to have you for a teacher.

    • LarryConley (Author)

      Cher,

      Thanks seems a worn out word from me to you, but there it is again.

      Luck flowed both ways from me to the students and back from them to me. Each of us gave the other much to think about.

      This poem conveys so much to me. It expresses the essence of my feelings toward American ideals better than anything I have ever written. When one considers the time at which it was written and the experiences Mr. Hughes and those who looked like him must have undergone, this poem is all the more remarkable and a noble expression of the power of the things we should be committed to.

      Thanks again!

      Larry

  2. What vision, what dreams, what passion and determination! 77 years later these words ring as true now as they did then. Thanks for sharing, Larry. People need to be reminded of what we are meant to be. It gives us something to aspire to!

    • LarryConley (Author)

      Melody,

      I could not agree more. This is the main message I tried to give my students. No matter how bad things may seem at any moment, we need to look to our ideals and put our backs into the work of getting where we were always meant to go.

      I hope some got my point.

      Thanks,

      Larry

  3. “be the dream the dreamer’s dream” is RIGHT. And stand up and be the American who loves their country and history and culture and people. I wouldn’t do it any other way, even amongst the current strife and frustration.

    Awesome poem, so much truth in it and things I relate to. And yes, so beautifully presented. I loved hearing how you’ve shared with your students about who we are, and now are sharing with us.

    Love it bud.

    Pete

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