July 4th Thoughts from US Senator Cory Booker: “If America hasn’t broken your heart, you don’t love her enough.”

Wow! If that isn’t a true quote, not just about America, but about everyone and everything I’ve ever loved, I don’t know what is!

If you are not familiar with Senator Booker, he is an African American and former mayor of Newark who is now a US Senator for New Jersey. Long-time readers know that I really like and respect Senator Booker, not only for his political stance but also for his personal lifestyle. For many years, he lived in a one of the worst neighborhoods in Newark to better know life outside of privilege, and he is a vegan for both moral/compassionate and environmental reasons. Most of all, he is someone who talks about love as being a guide for his political actions and beliefs, which I wish more politicians would do.

Senator Booker followed up the quote in the title with this:

Despite pain and setback, my faith in our country and people endures. I’ve seen the capacity of our country to become more perfect. My own life is a testimony to America’s ability to change for the better, to move forward. 

He finished up his email with a poem (be still, my literature teacher heart!) by one of the premeir black poets, Langston Hughes. I include that poem below.

“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.”

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,

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!

“Let America Be America Again”, Langston Hughes

I love this poem; I have taught it, or at least parts of it, in my classes. I hate its truth–that America has failed to live up to his goals for many people in many ways. But I love its inclusivity. Because yes, as an African American, we know the many ways the poet may not have experienced the American dream. However, he explicitly includes and aligns with many other populations, including poor whites, Native Americans, and immigrants, for whom the American dream has not come true. Yet he ends in hope and in possibility, and proclaims that America will become all that it is meant to be.

What an inspiring poem, whether on the 4th of July, or any day!

One thought on “July 4th Thoughts from US Senator Cory Booker: “If America hasn’t broken your heart, you don’t love her enough.”

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