Let America be America Again
"Let America Be America Again" is a poem written in 1935 by American poet Langston Hughes. It was originally published in the July 1936 issue of Esquire Magazine. It was later republished in the 1937 issue of Kansas Magazine and was revised and included in a small collection of Langston Hughes poems entitled A New Song, published by the International Workers Order in 1938.
The poem speaks of the American dream that never existed for the lower-class American and the freedom and equality that every immigrant hoped for but never achieved. In his poem, Hughes represents not only African Americans, but other economically disadvantaged and minority groups as well. Besides criticizing the unfair life in America, the poem conveys a sense of hope that the American Dream is soon to come.
Hughes wrote the poem while riding a train from New York to his mother’s home in Ohio. He was in despair over recent reviews of his first Broadway play and his mother’s diagnosis of breast cancer. Despite being a pillar of the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s, he was still struggling for acceptance as a poet, battling persistent racism, and just eking out a living. Selling a poem or a story every few months, he called himself a "literary sharecropper." Fate, he said, "never intended for me to have a full pocket of anything but manuscripts."
Hughes finished the poem in a night but did not regard it as one of his best. It did not appear in his early anthologies and was only revived in the 1990s, first in a public reading by Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall, later as a title for museum shows.
The title of this poem was used by Democratic United States senator John Kerry as a campaign slogan in his 2004 presidential campaign. In 2011 an exploratory committee for conservative Republican former senator Rick Santorum used a variant of the phrase ("Fighting to make America America again") on its website; told of the slogan's derivation from the Hughes poem, Santorum stated he had "nothing to do with" its use by the committee. Additionally, the satirical website RestoringTruthiness.org refutes the idea Santorum appropriated Hughes's language, claiming that the phrase "make America America again" is "not unique nor very original."
- The Collected Works of Langston Hughes: Gospel plays, operas, and later, p. xv.
- Wagner, Jean, Black Poets of the United States: From Pauline Laurence Dunbar to Langston Hughes, p. 451.
- "Let America Be America Again". The Attic. Retrieved 4 July 2018.
- Halbfinger, David (June 1, 2004). "In Five Words by Langston Hughes, Kerry Aides Hear a Campaign Slogan". The New York Times. Retrieved 8 March 2009.
- Kellogg, Carolyn (April 16, 2011). "Rick Santorum says he had 'nothing to do with' campaign slogan taken from Langston Hughes poem". Los Angeles Times.
- "Did Former Fox News Contributer [sic] Rick Santorum Rip Off Langston Hughes?". Restoring Truthiness.
- "Let America Be America Again" full text on Poets.org