POETRY FRIDAY–“I, Too, Am America”: The Poetry of Langston Hughes

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Langston Hughes 1936

Langston Hughes
1936

Submitted by Elaine Magliaro

Back in August of 2013, I did a post about the poetry of Langston Hughes for Res Ipsa Loquitor. The impetus for my doing that was the—at times contentious—discussions we had been having about race, racism, and bigotry in this country on that blog. We had talked about Paula Deen, Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman, a rodeo clown impersonating President Obama, voter suppression and Jim Crow laws. Those discussions brought to mind the poetry of Langston Hughes.  I believe the poems of this great American writer make powerful statements about the Black experience in “the land of the free.”

Here is a comment that someone left at my Langston Hughes post:

Well, I don’t think Old Langston needs to worry much about “Dixie” lynching him. It’s a lot more likely he will get mugged and killed on his way home from a poetry reading by another little Trayvon. And, I bet Old Langston could have figured out how to register and vote all by himself, even if it required a Voter ID, and it wouldn’t have taken a whole village of crying Democrats to carry to him to the polls.

I think we have a long way to go before our country becomes “post racial” America.

Here is an excerpt from Hughes’s poem Will V-Day Be Me-Day Too?

 So this is what I want to know:

When we see Victory’s glow,

Will you still let old Jim Crow

Hold me back?

When all those foreign folks who’ve waited—

Italians, Chinese, Danes—are liberated.

Will I still be ill-fated

Because I’m black?

 

Here in my own, my native land,

Will the Jim Crow laws still stand?

Will Dixie lynch me still

When I return?

Or will you comrades in arms

From the factories and the farms,

Have learned what this war

Was fought for us to learn?

 

When I take off my uniform,

Will I be safe from harm—

Or will you do me

As the Germans did the Jews?

When I’ve helped this world to save,

Shall I still be color’s slave?

Or will Victory change

Your antiquated views?

 

Click here to read the rest of the poem.

Here is a video of Langston Hughes reciting his poem I, Too:

And here is a video of poet Nikki Giovanni speaking about Langston Hughes and reading his poem Let America Be America Again:

 

Excerpt from Let American Be America Again:

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!

 

Click here to read the rest of the poem.

 

The Negro Speaks of Rivers

 

Dream Deferred by Langston Hughes (Poetry Reading)

Langston Hughes Biography (The Academy of American Poets)

Langston Hughes Biography (The Poetry Foundation)

I’d like to recommend a book of poetry that Hughes wrote for children entitled The Dream Keeper and Other Poems. The collection contains some of his most famous poems—including Dreams, Dream Variation, April Rain Song, Minstrel Man, The Negro Speaks of Rivers, My People, Mother to Son, Merry Go Round, and I, Too.

thedreamkeeperbk

 

Minstrel Man

 

Merry Go Round

This entry was posted in American History, Equal Rights, Literature, Poetry, Racism, Short Video, Society, United States and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to POETRY FRIDAY–“I, Too, Am America”: The Poetry of Langston Hughes

  1. buckaroo says:

    Men in great place are thrice servants: servants of the sovereign or state; servants of fame; and servants of business.

    — Francis Bacon

  2. randyjet says:

    I read the autobiography of Maj.Gen.Benjamin O Davis who was the commander of the Tuskegee Airmen and who graduated from West Point despite all the attempts of his classmates to shun, silence, and expel him. He said that the irony was that he felt more free when he was outside the USA than when he was back home. That says it all I think about how the USA was and to a large part is for most black Americans. Though that is not to deny the fact, that as Chris Rock says that he is more worried about the young black thug when he is at an ATM machine than he is about the older white dude in the same area.

    It is ironic that as black Americans can now live almost anywhere they wish now, they have moved to the suburbs along with their white co-workers, and have dismantled the tight knit black communities that provided a role model and controlling role for the young ones. The remainer are still in ghettoes with no tight knit community bonds.

  3. Randy,
    This is a photo of Capt. George Oliver, one of the Tuskegee Airmen.

    After Oliver got out of the Army Air Corps, he earned his PhD and became a professor. He and another of the fighter pilots in the squadron were walking back to base when he was attacked and nearly beaten to death by a bunch of white guys. During the assault, they kept calling him a “n****r lover.” Decorated fighter pilot, in uniform, but he had light skin and eyes, so became a target because he was caught palling around with a dark skinned black officer. By a bunch of ignorant yahoos who weren’t worthy of shining his shoes.

    I got that story and the photo from his daughter, who became a college professor herself.

    • randyjet says:

      I had heard that story,but I did not recall his name. When I was in the USAF, 1965-69 I ran into being called a nigger lover myself since I hung around with some black guys. The racism back then was more overt than it is now, but the same folks are just as bigoted and nasty as they always have been. Most of them are in the GOP now and proud of their bigotry, but not so overt as they once were.

  4. blouise17 says:

    I love it when you do a piece on the work of Langston Hughes because of the excerpts you choose to highlight.

    “And yet I swear this oath—

    America will be!”

    The hope in that one phrase strengthens my soul and humbles my pride and at this juncture in the Brown saga, I need both.

  5. James Knauer says:

    Thank you, Elaine. I think we needed this. Hughes remains a treasure.

  6. Elaine M. says:

    blouise,

    Blacks have it easy in this country, doncha know? It’s the whites who are the oppressed now.

    The Summer That Resurrected the Cult of White Victimhood
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-sirota/the-summer-that-resurrect_b_662031.html

    Excerpt:
    Between the Arizona immigration and ethnic education brouhaha; the slandering of Shirley Sherrod; the Fox-trumpeted New Black Panther Party story; Democratic Sen. Jim Webb and conservative New York Times’ columnist Ross Douthat each penning inflammatory articles insisting whites are oppressed, this summer will likely be remembered as the resurrection moment for the Cult of White Victimhood.

    Indeed, hysterical white people are all over the media screaming to whomever is listening that white people are under attack in America.

    The key word here, though, is “resurrection,” for this hysteria is nothing new, as author Tim Wise points out:

    ” In every generation whites have hyped fears of black anger, black bigotry and the supposed desire of African Americans to exact revenge on whites. From fears about slave rebellions, to claims that integration would lead black children to knife white children in the hallways and rape white girls, to paranoia about Obama’s secret plan for “white slavery,” the cult of white victimhood has long had its charter members. Sadly, nowadays the cult has the attention of the media and a white public already anxious about changing demographics, the presence of a black president and economic insecurity. Unless the targets of their race-baiting (including the President) show the courage to push back and expose them for the venal fear-pimps they are, their methods will only get more extreme, their lies more bold, and their ability to inflict lasting damage on the nation more definitive.”

    This is undeniable, and the right knows it — which is why when anyone counters the racism by pointing it out for what it is, conservatives instantly try to boomerang the charge back into their own white victimhood, claiming that they are being unduly vilified as bigots. As Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi reports:

    “At every Tea Party event I’ve gone to, the scene always devolves in one of two directions: either everybody trades stories about the corruption of Charlie Rangel or ACORN or Jeremiah Wright or some other notable nonwhite villain, or else a group therapy session breaks out in which everybody shares their harrowing experiences of being unjustly accused of racism. Once they reach one of those two destinations, they camp out there, conversationally, not just for minutes but hours.”

  7. blouise says:

    Elaine,

    Re the linked article … yep, gearing up for the next election cycle and having exhausted Christian values, family values, and founding-father values, “they” are forced to use that which underlies it all … racist fear.

  8. po says:

    Second James ‘s words, Elaine, thanks for this. Some things can be shared only through poetry.
    Makes one wonder how less expressive humanity would have been were poetry never been!

  9. po says:

    Fascinating too that while Langston speaks of the black experience so expressively, he still speaks of merely one small aspect of it. Makes me wonder what was the poetry of the black of the country, of the south and of the daily interaction with the small minded townspeople. Music? Gospel? Language?

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