Guest Column by Steve Witherspoon
Recently I was led to the Facebook profile of a local Alder for the City of Madison, WI to leave him a message related to a vote that was cast on an entirely different subject. After I left the message I scrolled through his profile page to read some of the posts. On July 2, 2021 this Alder posted the following statement on Facebook followed by a link to a video that contained the 1936 poem “Let America Be America Again” by Langston Hughes.
The Alderman wrote,
“As I age, I become more aware and misinformed at the same time. I used to celebrate the 4th with fantastical, flag waving, fervor and fireworks. Now, I use it as a day of mourning and reflection. While our republic is relatively young, the insidious histories of attempted genocide against BIPOC people, here at home, and around the world, forever stains the collective soul of this nation.”
The Hughes poem followed:
“Let America Be America Again“
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.”
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,
—Langston Hughes – 1902-1967
My reply to this publicly elected official was the following…”You posted that poem as if its words accurately reflect 2021 as opposed to 1936 when it was published. “Slavery was a scourge upon humanity, but for the most part it’s gone across the globe, it’s certainly gone in the USA.”Denial of basic civil rights for black people was a scourge in the USA, but it is gone in the USA.”Blind bigotry of black people consumed far too many people for far too long, but that is basically gone here in the USA.”Freedom exists here in the USA.”Equal rights exist here in the USA.”The American Dream exists here in the USA.”The Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution exists to protect “We the People” and without them we would not enjoy the freedoms we have here in the USA. Celebration of these things is fully appropriate.”We have come a long, Long LONG way since that poem was written in 1936. Is there more we can do to improve the USA, you bet there is but you don’t improve the USA by tearing it down, burning it up and inspiring racial division. What do you think Martin Luther King Jr would say about how his dreams have been twisted into racial division?
“Let your refusal to celebrate the 4th of July and your “mourning and reflection” will swallow you whole and blind you to the things that the USA has done for you and you will live in a woe-be-unto-me world of depression and despair and that will drag you away from the coveted American Dream. [ADDED 7/9/2021] You are a publicly elected official in a major Wisconsin city and you are a Black and Indigenous person of color (BIPOC), that sir would not have happened in 1936. You are literally living the American Dream.”
Those are the facts as they happened. This is my analysis:
What immoral hive-minded brainwashing consumes people like this? They are literally living the American Dream and yet they go out of their way to promote a verifiably false narrative that things are terrible and people should mourn in despair because the American Dream hasn’t been individually achieved by some. I think it’s very disingenuous and unethical for a BIPOC publicly elected Alder for the City of Madison, or any BIPOC elected official, that is literally living the American Dream to intentionally sow discord and division among his constituents with hypocritical hyperbolic posts like the Alderman’s.