The speaker declares that America should be America again; it should be the dream it once was for the pioneer on the plain who sought a home where he could be free. The speaker says in an aside, "America was never America to me." He says America should go back to being the dream that the dreamers had, and be a "great strong land of love." There should not be kings or tyrants or people being crushed by someone above them. The speaker repeats, "It never was America to me." The speaker wants his land to embody liberty - not just by wearing a false patriotic wreath on its head, but through pervasive opportunity and equality. The speaker claims that he has never experienced freedom or equality in America.
A nameless, faceless voice then wonders who is this person (the speaker) mumbling in the dark and who is drawing a veil across the stars?
The speaker then responds that he is the poor disenfranchised white man, the "Negro" slave, and the "Indian" who has been driven off his land. He is an immigrant clutching onto shreds of hope that the weak may rise above the powerful. He is also, he claims, a young man full of hope who aims to topple the structures of greed that bind him. In addition, he is a farmer who is tied to his soil and a worker stuck running a machine. He is a servant. The speaker represents every starving, poor, and disenfranchised person who is struggling to survive in this "land of dreams."
The speaker then claims that he is the one who dreamt of a free land while living under the oppression of a king in the "Old World." This dream was so strong that it drove him and his people to build America brick by brick. These dreamers who built America fled persecution in Ireland, Poland, and England; they were torn from their homes in Africa, and they built the "homeland of the free" with their hands.
The speaker takes pause and repeats, "the free?"
He backtracks, saying that he could not have said "free," citing the millions of Americans who are on relief, being shot down, and struggling to make ends meet - despite their hanging flags, singing songs, and dreaming big. All they get in return for their efforts, though, is a "dream that's almost dead today." The speaker then turns from his lament to a call for action. He wants America to be the America where all the dreamers built it can flourish. After sweating, bleeding, keeping the faith, and enduring such pain, it is up to these disenfranchised dreamers to reclaim their America.
The speaker does not mind being called names, especially as he fights for freedom from the "leeches" who feed on people's lives. Even though America has never been the "America" of his dreams, he is determined to make it so. He proclaims that "we, the people" must lift America out of the death, rape, and lies in order to redeem the country's land, mines, rivers, and other natural beauty - that is what needs to happen before this land is "America" again.
In "Let America Be America Again," Langston Hughes openly shares his thoughts on the American Dream. Hughes composed this poem in 1935 and it was published in the July 1936 issue of Esquire Magazine. It appeared again in 1937 in Kansas Magazine. Decades later, in 2004, Democratic Senator John Kerry used the poem's title as his slogan for his Presidential Campaign while running against George W. Bush.
Throughout the poem, Hughes contrasts his hopes for America with the reality of life for those outside of the socially and economically dominant racial, religious, and social groups. He evokes the fervent dreams of those who came to the United States because they saw it as a haven where they could be safe from the persecution they endured in their homelands - but those dreams of America have never come true.
The poem begins with Hughes yearning for America to be the America it once was; however, he comments sardonically, this image of America is patently false. The earliest Americans practiced slavery and oppression, systematically destroying the land's native peoples in order to build their settlements. The ideal of "America" exists only in dreams, Hughes explains. However, he begs, "Let America be the dream that dreamers dreamed- / Let it be that great strong land of love / Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme." For poor people, Native Americans, slaves, and immigrants, American has only ever been a "dog eat dog" world where the weak are "crushed." The "humble, hungry, mean" citizens do not get to drink from the cup of plenty; despite hard work and ambition, they will always remain outside the margins of success and comfort.
The speaker steps back momentarily and acknowledges that many dreamers came to America with the hope of carving out an equal piece of wealth and acceptance. The daring were mighty, Hughes exclaims, and he celebrates the dreamers who "dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true." The refugees from Ireland, Poland, England, and even more so, the African slaves, arrived in America because they had no other choice. However, even after building the foundation of this "homeland of the free," its riches remain out of their grasp.
The speaker cries out that the "Negros," immigrants, and poor people must rise up and redefine American equality as it was always meant to be. He states emphatically, "We must take back our land again, / America!" Even if America is now currently plagued by discrimination and greed, the speaker (and Hughes) believe that it can be improved. Thus, the poem ends on an optimistic, powerful note of self-determination and perseverance.
Years after the poem was published, Langston Hughes commented, "The American Negro believes in democracy. We want to make it real, complete, workable, not only for ourselves - the fifteen million dark ones - but for all Americans all over the land." This poem exemplifies the ambivalence and alienation that many African Americans felt in the pre-Civil Rights era, but also encourages them to rise up and reclaim their land - because they deserve it as much as those people in power.