Poem for Inauguration Day: Let America Be America Again

Today I am grateful for President Barrack Obama last eight years of leading our country. He did many good things to strengthen our country, but as the leader of a military superpower, many lives were needlessly lost due to the ever-increasing military industrial complex. Under his watch, this continued to grow and further erode our morals as a nation. I knew that President Obama was never going to be my savior, but I had hope that he would do more to stem the tide of militarism.

Yet today I have no words to describe my feelings about our new President Donald Trump. My feelings are frustration, sadness, and fear. For the most part, it is not feelings about my own safety and security. Instead I am frustrated, sad, and fearful for my friends of color, my transgender friends, my friends who are one doctor bill away from bankruptcy (if the Affordable Care Act is repealed and not replaced with another law that protects people with pre-existing conditions) and my friends all across the world who suffer from my country’s idolatry of our military industrial complex, where more killing equal more profits.

I am left with Langston Hughes’ desire to make America be America Again. A desire of us to live up to the ideals that the founders had back in the 1700s of what America could become. I reject the notion of “Make America Great Again” but it has never been great for many Americans. But we should continue to strive to live up to lofty ideals by us redeeming America, as Hughes write at the end of his poem:

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!

This is just as important now as it was in the mid 1930s when Hughes wrote this poem. We should have been working on this a long time ago, but today is the day we need to start.

Here is the full poem:

Let America Be America Again
by Langston Hughes, 1902 – 1967

langston-hughes-1

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!

 

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