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Hail Langston Hughes aka President-Elect Barack Obama!

November 7, 2008


As a writer, I have long admired Barack Obama’s articulateness on and off the page.  (For her ability to answer hard-driving questions with wit, agility, and skill, I am still amazed by Hillary Clinton and can’t wait fort the day she leads the Supreme Court!) For a FREE STICKER or to buy a POSTER of this image, see below).

So I wasn’t surprised to know that Pulitzer Prize winning author Toni Morrison, who will be speaking at the LA Central Library Nov. 19, also admires his prose.

I was surprised, however, to discover that Barack Obama is a poet of such skill that Harold Bloom compared his poetry written as a student to the work of Langston Hughes, Harlem Renaissance author of such works as “America” and “Harem” which is popularly known as “dream deferred.”

Each week on this blog, in addition to my own poetry,  I like to offer a poem or two by a poet I enjoy, appreciate, admire. Since I don’t have any of Barack Obama’s poetry at hand (yet!), I offer work by Langston Hughes.

I, Too

I, too sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody’ll dare
say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”

They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed–
I, too, am America.


What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?

Let America be America Again


Originally published in Esquire and in the International Worker Order pamphlet A New Song (1938)

Let America be America Again LANGSTON HUGHES 1938

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!

Want a free Obama sticker of the image above to celebrate our victory? It’s designed by Shepard Fairey, the artist who created the iconic HOPE poster.  MoveOn’s giving them away totally free–even the shipping’s free.

I just got mine. Click this link to get your free Obama sticker:

9 Comments leave one →
  1. November 7, 2008 11:20 pm

    Cool, that is very powerful poetry in a big voice echoing across the plains.

  2. November 8, 2008 7:24 pm

    Any excuse to break out Langston is a great excuse! I love the echoes of Whitman, here too. Makes me want to read him again.

    I am curious how long it will be before Obama’s college poetry surfaces…I still find it hard to believe that we elected a man of letters to the Presidency! (He’s no Mario Vargas Llosa but what an improvement over the last 3 Bush admins!)

  3. November 9, 2008 3:01 am

    it does explode and (sometimes) can lead to serious burning…

  4. November 9, 2008 6:21 pm

    Watch Out, Change has just begun. What Barack Obama has achieved by getting elected is phenomenal indeed; but the amount of change that we, as a people of this earth, have to make in order to save ourselves from self destruction is even more phenomenal.

    Harlem has always been one of my favourite poems since I read it last year. It is those rare pieces which make something within you explode every time you read it.

  5. November 9, 2008 11:54 pm

    Yes Annamari–and we have certainly seen just that a time or two!

    I agree Sumedh, the poem gives me the powerful chills every time.

    And absolutely, it is up to EVERYONE to participate and be involved and create the change we want to see.

  6. Laura permalink
    January 5, 2009 7:03 pm

    You missed the most appropriate Hughes poem. I am looking for it right now.. It has a line – I will never be president…

  7. Laura permalink
    January 5, 2009 7:12 pm

    Children’s Rhymes

    By what sends
    the white kids
    I ain’t sent:
    I know I can’t
    be President.
    What don’t bug
    them white kids
    sure bugs me:
    We know everybody
    ain’t free.

    Lies written down
    for white folks
    ain’t for us a-tall:
    Liberty And Justice–
    Huh!–For All?

    Langston Hughes

  8. January 5, 2009 7:39 pm

    thanks Laura for finding this poem and contributing it to the comments and conversation here!


  1. Denzel Washington does the Langston Hughes poem “America” « the write alley

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