Perfection, of course, is a moving target, but certainly we can aim to be better and, aiming sincerely, improve. We can make the future brighter than the past has been.
I told him it’s like the Langston Hughes poem, “Let America Be America Again,” a poem written 85 years ago during the Great Depression, when Hughes and so many millions in America and around the world were struggling to make ends meet, let alone to realize their dreams. There is sharp poignancy in that word again, since the America that Hughes envisioned, as he makes clear in the poem, “…never has been yet.”
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.
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.
Nor freedom in this "homeland of the free.")
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?
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.
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 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.
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
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."
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.
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.
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,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath —
America will be!
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!