Mercury Rising 鳯女

Politics, life, and other things that matter

“It Never Was America To Me.”

Posted by Phoenix Woman on July 15, 2013

From 1938, Langston Hughes brings us a poem about privilege and those who never fully (or even, for many, partly) in the American Dream:

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!

One Response to ““It Never Was America To Me.””

  1. Charles II said

    And 75 years later, we are not saved.

    It’s such a beautiful poem. But every year that goes by with injustices piling higher and higher makes it more painful to read.

    Yes, I know how much has changed. But I know also how much has not changed, and how urgently reactionary forces want to restore the status quo ante.

    It feels more like Yeats than Hughes today.

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