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America will be!

MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN | 7/17/2018, 1:34 p.m.
In 1935, the brilliant Black poet Langston Hughes wrote Let America Be America Again. He wasn’t looking back to a ...

Children’s Defense Fund

In 1935, the brilliant Black poet Langston Hughes wrote Let America Be America Again. He wasn’t looking back to a nostalgic, idealized fantasy of America’s past. As he said in the refrain, “America never was America to me.”

Instead, the poem is about the dream so many people of all colors, backgrounds, faiths and nationalities have always had of what America should be – the “dream it used to be” of love, opportunity, equality and freedom for all. That was the “dream so strong, so brave, so true” it drew generations of poor and working-class immigrants here from “dark Ireland’s shore, Poland’s plain and England’s grassy lea” to join the farmers, laborers and factory workers – and slaves and Native Americans – on whose backs America was built.

His poem draws a stark contrast between the dream and the reality of America’s long history of economic, racial oppression and exploitation that left it “almost dead.”

But it stated that American dream must live on:

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.…

O, yes,

I say it plain,

America never was America to me,

And yet I swear this oath—

America will be!

America will be. My late beloved theologian friend, Dr. Vincent Harding – close adviser of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. – quoted this verse as a challenge to all of us, “We can always stop there and complain and complain and complain – ‘you’ve never been America to me.’ But remember, Langston did not stop there. ‘America, you’ve never been America to me. But I swear this oath – you will be!’ I want you, those who are not afraid to swear oaths, to swear that oath for yourself, for your children … You will be, America. You will be what you could be. You will be what you should be, and I am going to give my life to working for that.” And so must we all in these times.

The last weeks and months have given many of us pause about the viability of America’s dream as every day brings new assaults within and without government on American ideals and the hard earned progress made but still not complete. Many in power seem bent on turning the clock backwards and transforming the dream into a nightmare – closing its doors to those seeking freedom, justice, safety and equal opportunity.

America is not America right now to many millions within and without our borders as we cruelly separate children and parents seeking a safe haven from repression and violence in their countries and let 13.2 million children live in poverty. So we must speak up and vote massively and demand leaders who will keep moving us towards America’s true promise.