Let America Be America Again

by Dr. Patricia L. Griffen
CBFAR Moderator

Let America Be America Again
Langston Hughes (1902-1967)

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, or mighty crush the weak.

Above is an excerpt from a poem penned by African American poet Langston Hughes in 1935. I invite you to read the poem in its entirety.  Hughes refers to America as a dream, a hope, an aspiration that has not been fully achieved. A dream, nevertheless, that has propelled America to be better than the America of 1935.

There is a collective reference in the poem by Hughes to the poor, people of color, diverse ethnic groups, women, the disabled, the LGBTQ community, the workers, the non-privileged, the disenfranchised, marginalized, the dispossessed and those with their backs against the wall. Within the past 81 years, America has experienced significant changes that have impacted the lives of those referenced by Hughes.

Since 1935, America has lived through Jim Crow. lynchings, protest movements, demonstrations, sit-ins, boycotts, Freedom Riders, mass murders, assassinations, civil rights marches, the civil rights movement and acts of social justice toward actualizing the dream.  

Since 1935, legislation has been enacted providing transformative changes to assure equal protection of rights for a diverse country.  We have witnessed the 1954  Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court Decision,  the historic 1957 integration of Central High School by a courageous group of nine teenagers, the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act,  the 1966  founding of the National Organization for Women, 1990 American with Disabilities Act, 2011 repel of banning gays from serving in the military, 2015 U.S Supreme Court ruling of marriage equality in all 50 states,  Federal Marriage Benefits available to same-sex couples nationwide and numerous other legislation. These civil changes have resulted from a persistence of the spirit which has advanced the call of equality for an inclusive and united America.

Yet, with this backdrop, Election 2016, by all accounts and independently of one’s political affiliation, has exposed a wide chasm polarizing and dividing the country. A country polarized around the intersectionality of a charging herd of elephants in the room (no political reference intended). In the midst of civil rights advancements since 1935, we now find ourselves at a new low. This election has unleashed the “hounds of hell,” an expression coined by theologian and mystic Howard Thurman, in his book, “Jesus and the Disinherited.” These three hounds according to Thurman are fear, hatred and deception.

The Southern Poverty Law Center recently released a report on the impact of the presidential campaign on our nation’s school.  They found a disturbing national problem among schools with large minority enrollment. Below are some of those findings:

  • More than two-thirds of the teachers reported that students, mainly immigrants, children of immigrant and Muslims – have expressed concerns or fears about what might happen to them or their families after the election.

  • More than half have seen an increase in uncivil political discourse

  • More than one-third have observed an increase in anti-Muslim or anti-immigrant sentiment

  • More than 40% are hesitant to teach about the election.

  • Marginalized students are terrified

  • Other students have become emboldened to use slurs, engage in name-calling and make inflammatory statements toward each other

  • Students do not understand why this has become such an angry and dishonorable campaign

  • Openly racist statements towards Mexican students have increased. Mexican students are worried. (Anaheim, California)

  • Students have become very hostile to opposing points of view, regardless of the topic.  Any division now elicits anger and personal attacks (Jefferson, Georgia)

These findings raise the question, what will be the long term effect of Election 2016 on younger generations?

Will the dream of Langston Hughes ever be fulfilled?  If so, how? What is the response of Cooperative Baptist Fellowship to this current state of affairs?   

Hear the response from the seminal work of Howard Thurman, Jesus and the Disinherited written in 1949:

What, then, is the word of the religion of Jesus to those who stand with their backs against the wall?  There must be the clearest possible understanding of the anatomy of the issues facing them. They must recognize fear, deception, hatred each for what it is.  Once having done this, they must learn how to destroy those or to render themselves immune to their domination.  In so great an undertaking it will become increasingly clear that the contradictions of life are not ultimate.  The disinherited will know for themselves that there is a Spirit at work in life and in the hearts of men which is committed to overcoming the world.  It is universal, knowing no age, no race, no culture and no condition of man. For the privileged and underprivileged alike, if the individual puts at the disposal of the Spirit the needful dedication and discipline, he can live effectively in the chaos of the present the high destiny of a son of God.