August 28, 2019

March on Washington Remembered

MARCH ON WASHINGTON FOR JOBS AND FREEDOM, AUGUST 28, 1963: ONE PARTICIPANT REMEMBERS

Edith Lee-Payne at the March on Washington, 1963  
Photo by Rowland Scherman, Courtesy US National Archives

In the account below Edith Lee-Payne recalls the day she was photographed as a 12 year old participant in the March on Washington, and the curious history of that photograph through 2011.
My grandparents, Marie and John Spencer Lee, left Culpeper, Virginia for Washington, D.C. in the early 1900s, where my mother Dorothy Lee was born. My mother settled in Detroit, Michigan in 1940, married William Henderson Lee in 1947, and I was born four years later.  Summer vacations were always spent in Washington.  My 1963 summer vacation, however, is forever marked in history and my personal memory, because I was there when the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom took place on August 28, 1963.  That March, which took place on my 12th birthday, changed me and transformed the nation.
Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech is by far the best remembered moment at the March on Washington.  King gave the speech before an audience of 250,000 gathered at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial.  With the giant statue of Abraham Lincoln in the shaded background, Dr. King described a world he envisioned as dominated by love, freedom, and justice
I heard the speech that day but I also heard one similar two months before in Detroit.  On June 23, 1963, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rev. C. L. Franklin (Aretha Franklin’s father) led a march of over 100,000 people down Woodward Avenue to Cobo Hall in downtown Detroit.  Dr. King encouraged us to join him and others in Washington, D.C. on August 28 for a peaceful demonstration that he believed would help bring attention to the injustices of segregation throughout the south. He reminded us “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Convinced by Dr. King’s rousing discourse and other reasons I later learned, my mother scheduled our annual summer vacation so we could attend the March on Washington while celebrating my 12th birthday.
Both in Detroit and Washington, Dr. King used the refrain “I have a Dream.”  Detroiters still contend the “I Have a Dream” speech made famous in Washington, D.C., was actually given first in Detroit.  We already lived the dreams Dr. King envisioned for all Americans across the nation, particularly in the south.  My neighborhood, on Detroit’s northwest side, was racially integrated.  The schools I attended, Wingert Elementary and Condon Jr. High, were integrated.  Our family church, Carter Metropolitan Christian Methodist Episcopal, was integrated and included interracial families.  My mother and I dined at restaurants, sat at lunch counters served by white and/or black waitresses, without incident. We drank from water fountains without signs distinguishing “color.”  My mother never learned to drive so busses and cabs were our primary mode of transportation, also without concern of any consequence or incident.
It was inconceivable to me to know that people who looked like I did, and separated from Detroit by a few hundred miles, suffered such horrific experiences and limitations in their daily lives and often risked death.  Cross burnings, beatings, lynchings, and murders were incidents reported regularly in the periodicals my mother subscribed to including Ebony and Jet magazines and Detroit’s Negro newspaper, The Chronicle.  Mississippi Civil Rights activist Medgar Evers was one of many lives tragically sacrificed just months before the March on Washington.  Even at 11, I knew that young people like me were risking their lives to participate in demonstrations in Birmingham and elsewhere across the South for the freedoms that were part of my daily life.  I came to realize that what I learned in school about the Constitution, the Emancipation Proclamation, freedom, and opportunity, led me to question the validity of these documents and concepts.  There were no exceptions in these documents allowing these dreadful experiences to happen, yet they did.
It appeared to me that a million people converged on the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. that hot, humid day in August.  Busses marked with names of cities from across the country endlessly lined the streets.  Dr. King’s message of non-violence, resistance against segregation and discrimination came through clearly again in his “Southern preacher” voice that I first heard in Detroit two months earlier.  The March in Detroit was a testament to the peaceful demonstration Dr. King referred to as thousands of people assembled in support of the civil rights struggles in the South.  This March on Washington included not only people in support of the civil rights struggles, like my mother and I, but the people who aspired for the freedoms and privileges they were entitled to; many of whom undoubtedly suffered violence while exercising their First Amendment right to peacefully protest injustice.  This March was a testament of an entire nation of all people of every race, creed, color, and religion, standing together in the Christian spirit of love, unity, and peace.
As I listened to Dr. King and others who spoke, the simultaneous expressions of pain, anger, hurt, helplessness, despair, and hope, especially hope, was evident in the eyes and on the faces of people around me, including my mother.  Although I knew my mother was a professional dancer who shared the stage with prominent entertainers during the 1930s and 1940s, such as Cab Callaway, Billy Eckstein, Ella Fitzgerald, and Sammy Davis Sr., I learned for the first time about the injustices she encountered as she and other entertainers traveled across the South.  I overheard my mother’s brief conversation with Lena Horne where they both recalled frightening experiences and observations.  Then I realized that the tears on her face that day were not simply out of compassion for others struggling for freedom in the South, they were reminders of what she had personally witnessed and felt.
The significance of the March on Washington left an indelible memory that I appreciate with each passing year.  That day in history helped bring the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 which helped make segregation and discrimination illegal and ensured millions of southern blacks access to the ballot.  Thanks to my mother, I garnered a place in history that day as well, although I wouldn’t know about it for another 45 years.
In late October 2008, my cousin Marsha phoned saying she saw a picture of me on the cover of a 2009 Black History Calendar.  She said I was holding a banner displaying “March for Jobs” and the month “August,” the only words visible in the photo.    I recalled holding a banner at the March on Washington that I still have.  Marsha described that the other images in the calendar included:  Dr. King, Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Jesse Owens, Langston Hughes, and W.E.B Dubois, and that the photos were courtesy of a museum.   Searching the picture’s origin led me to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) where I learned from archivist Rutha Beamon of three photos of me in its holdings. My mother is in two of the photos making them the most special since she is no longer with me.
What an incredible blessing and humbling experience that an image taken of me, captioned by the NARA, “Photograph of a Young Woman at the Civil Rights March on Washington D.C. with a Banner” has been viewed in articles, publications, and documentaries around the world.  Equally humbling, is to be associated with the greatest non-violent march in this nation’s history and with its most prominent leader, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  Most notably, the photo appears in the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial brochure and the documentaries, “From MLK to Today,” by movie director Antoine Fuqua and the NARA’s “March on Washington Photographs.”
Thanks to Mark Katkov of the NARA I learned that Rowland Scherman was the photographer who captured my raw emotions on that August day in 1963.   Mr. Scherman happened to visit the NARA in the fall of 2011 identifying images of his work from the March on Washington, including the images of me.   Mr. Scherman and I plan to meet soon.
Hurricane Irene prevented the scheduled August 28, 2011 dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, that would have marked the 48th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington and my 60th birthday; however, I returned to Washington, D.C. for the rescheduled celebration on October 16, 201l.  Ironically, this was my grandson Zaire’s 7th birthday.  On a pleasant fall day, busses marked with the names of cities from across the country again lined the streets of Washington, D.C. as on August 28, 1963. Attending this dedication was an opportunity to give tribute to Dr. King’s legacy, be inspired to continue his course, and reflect on that day and time.   Although Dr. King’s dreams are not yet fully realized, his tireless leadership and ultimate sacrifice to bring a nation together will never be diminished as long as I and future generations remain committed and steadfast in the pursuit of the type of society Dr. King envisioned.  We must and we will keep the dream alive.

Payne, E. (2012, February 10) March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 28, 1963: One Participant Remembers. Retrieved from https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/march-washington-jobs-and-freedom-august-28-1963-one-participant-remembers/ 

July 3, 2019

Seems like a good time to repeat a golden oldie

Previously published. Just ran across it again and felt like it could use airing again.

Considering the ever-present political battles in which humans engage, the TED conversation by Ash Beckham struck me as particularly poignant. The point at which Ash describes events at her sister's wedding, and particularly the nervous conversation with a table full of nervous attendees, it makes me feel that I should be more tolerant of those who do not share my particular views but who honestly try to understand. Not everything has to be a battle. Everyone has a closet. It was every bit as difficult and stressful for me to step out of mine as Ash describes. How about you? Are you still in yours?

July 18, 2018

Is we smarter today than two years ago?

In 2004 Susan Jacoby published her book, Freethinkers, and then set out on a promotion tour. Later, when speaking of that tour she told of an interesting and important discovery... those who came to listen to her speak already agreed with the premise of the book. There was no one at any of the stops to offer dissent. It was as if those in who might be in disagreement did not care to expose themselves to viewpoints contrary to their closely held beliefs. As a result, four years later Jacoby published her next book, The Age of American Unreason

In that book, Jacoby observes that religious extremism and political opportunism have taken over our culture, and the means by which they have done it is by mass marketing and constant repetition of falsehood. The book is almost a sequel to Hofstadter's landmark work, Anti-intellectualism in American Life. This 1963 book was his dissection of the American mindset he had observed leading up to the 1960 election, the anti-JFK tribalism, and the segregationist attitudes so prevalent at the time. 
In her book, Jacoby writes that "the scales of American history have shifted heavily against [the] intellectual life so essential to functional democracy." When asked, she called herself a “cultural conservative,” but lamented that the term had been "hijacked by the religious right," which she describes as "preoccupied with […] the preservation of the phrase 'under God' in the Pledge of Allegiance." Throughout the book, Jacoby builds the argument that America is damaged not only by the resulting mass ignorance, but by the pride taken in that ignorance, and of the arrogance of the ignorant individuals who practically relish their know-nothingness. (“… I love the poorly educated.”) 

Ignorance is served to us daily; here in the blogosphere, on Facebook and other forms of social media, in the nightly news, the pathetic game shows and soap operas, “reality” TV programs, and every time a politician, pundit, or preacher opens a mouth. 

But there is a difference between mundane and virulent ignorance. 

Mundane ignorance is when the on-street interviewer asks a dozen passersby to point out Idaho on a map... or name the freedoms enshrined in the 1st amendment. Virulent ignorance is evident in people who claim to be educated and call themselves “stable genius.” They believe that they are informed on important subjects when in reality they’ve just been educated into greater ignorance. 

These are the people who do not show up to speak with Susan Jacoby, because they are already convinced that she is wrong. They are the people who watch only Fox, or only MSNBC for their news. They are the ones constantly parroting "fake news." They are willing to swallow falsehood so long as it agrees with what they want to believe... and they are immune to actual evidence. 


~~~

January 16, 2018

The wheel keeps on turning

The 18th amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified on this date in 1919. This constitutional modification was championed by sundry groups seeking a more pure and godly nation, and saw a means to that end by constitutionally barring the demon rum.

Unfortunately, the outcome was far different from what was expected. Instead of abstinence, we witnessed the birth of a new and highly lucrative small business model. This held particular attraction for some enterprising Italian and Jewish immigrants. Once the legal sale of alcohol fell under the prohibitionist ax, bootlegging gave a giant leg up to La Cosa Nostra (which roughly translated to English means, This Thing of Ours.).

It took Americans a little time to fully realize the futility of the teetotaler agenda, but fourteen years after the ratification of the 18th amendment, it was effectively repealed by the passage of the 23rd. The mafia, however, was firmly entrenched and had no intention of rolling up the carpets and putting up the Going out of Business signs. The mob immediately branched into more hardened criminal activities; most notably the protection racket, gambling, and prostitution. Initially at least, they avoided the drug trade. That would come later. It wasn't until the late 60s that the FBI effectively broke the mob's back, and it took until after the turn of the millennium for the last of the major Dons to be convicted and sent to prison.


Almost a century of organized crime was birthed by sincere puritan efforts intended to save humans from themselves, yet in the interim saw terrible violence and bloodshed. We witnessed massive increases in violent crime and soaring murder rates. Prohibition extracted a heavy price on this nation.


This did not deter the passion of the prudes. They weren't done yet. Coincidental with the anti-alcohol efforts came the effort to demonize and prohibit by force of law yet another substance... cannabis. A fact that seems lost in this 21st century is that cannabis was freely cultivated in this nation in the 19th century and into the early decades of the 20th century. It was a good cash crop; used in  the production of medications, rope, and textiles... and yes, it was used to get high.

On the surface, the cannabis prohibition effort was played as just another of the do-gooder causes, but the true tale of how the substance fell into the cross-hairs of law enforcement is both interesting and disgusting. It harbors a vaguely European and very American narrative... racism.

Following the end of the Mexican revolution in 1920, the U.S. began to see an influx of Mexican and Central American migration. Although every state received migrants, it was seen mostly in the southern border states and into Louisiana. These migrants brought with them their native cultures, customs, and languages. One of the customs shared by most was the use of cannabis as a relaxant, yet just like Americans, the migrants also used it in medicinal preparations. Their word for the substance was marijuana rather than cannabis. Americans were familiar with the cannabis plant, but the word marijuana was a new and foreign term. This ignorance was seized upon by the prohibitionists as they mounted their new campaigns. Those folks had unlikely allies in this prohibition effort... in the form of white supremacist groups... most notably the "Christian" Ku Klux Klan.

So an unholy alliance between the prohibitionists and our good old and ever-present American racist elements took form. The campaign began by implying that this stuff they brought from down south... this marijuana... must be evil. That slowly morphed into strong hints that the Mexicans themselves were evil. New terminology also began to enter our lexicon; Cannabis became the demon weed, devil's lettuce, killer herb, skunk weed, wacky tobaccy, killer reefer, and a host of other such monikers clearly intended to demonize something that Americans knew to be beneficial. The media, fed with the false and exaggerated claims about disruptive Mexicans and their dangerous use of the evil marijuana, joined in on the campaign. It was disguised as law and order... yet was in reality little more than the latest racist attempt to keep America white.

The average American, ignorant of the fact that this terrible marijuana was in fact the very same as something with which they had grown comfortable... something already in their medicine cabinets. In great numbers the uneducated jumped on the prohibition bandwagon, torch and pitchfork in hand. The fabricated rhetoric stoked fear among the public back then, and continues to have a direct connection to the anti-Mexican movement we still see today.

We had seen previously seen where controlling citizens by controlling customs could be successful. By making marijuana a controlled substance and banning it from use or sale, our government successfully implemented a national strategy for keeping certain populations under the watchful eye of law enforcement. This suited our American bigots just fine. The more Mexicans sent to prison, the better.

Eighty some-odd years ago the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 became law. Since then the pitch and volume of the rhetoric has peaked and ebbed like a roller coaster, but the past two decades have seen attitudes change considerably. The reversal of the ill effects brought by this unjust prohibition has come more slowly than it did for alcohol, yet as of this writing, thirty states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws that in some form or another legalize marijuana, while eight states and the District of Columbia have adopted recreational use laws. Voters in Massachusetts and Maine recently passed legalization, but at the time of this writing, those states have neither written rules for growers and retailers, nor have they begun accepting licenses applications.

A major hurdle is that cannabis remains illegal under federal law. In 2013, then President Obama ordered his Justice Department to not enforce federal law in the jurisdictions where cannabis had been legalized by voters. As the public becomes more  aware of the fabricated health claims used to justify prohibition and its implied racial bias, the clamor for legalization grows louder and making it highly likely that others will follow the majority's lead. Some of the holdout states are having discussion and voters may soon find ballot initiatives addressing the issue when they go to the polls.


In spite of these popular calls for legalization, we now have another president and another Attorney General; both intent on reversing Obama era initiatives. Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions recently stated that his department would be paying no attention to the Obama mandate or will of the people, and immediately launched a new crusade. His goal is to once again raise the specter of "the evil others and their demon weed." In Sessions’ eye and apparently that of his boss, the mission should again be to turned toward authoritarian control, with a desired result of ensuring a good supply of detainees marching in chains toward the for-profit, private prisons.

So here we are for another ride on the roller coaster, and this too shall pass. We'll see what comes next, but this author predicts full repeal of all cannabis prohibition laws within his ever shortening lifetime.

The wheel keeps on turning.

~~~

January 15, 2018

But I haven’t given up. And you cannot give up.


Why Getting Into Trouble is Necessary to Make Change

I’ve seen unbelievable changes during the past 50 or 60 years. When people say, “Nothing has changed,” I feel like saying, “Come and walk in my shoes.” I truly believe that if there is faith and hope and determination, we can continue to lay progress and create an American community at peace with ourselves. The next generation will help us get there.

When I was growing up as a child in Alabama, I saw signs all around me–I saw crosses that the Klan had put up, an announcement about a Klan meeting. I saw signs that said White, colored, white men, colored men, white women, colored women. There were places where we couldn’t go. But we brought those signs down. The only place you will see those signs today will be in a book, in a museum or on a video. When I was growing up, the great majority of African Americans could not participate in a democratic process in the South. They could not register to vote. But we changed that. When I first came to Washington to go on the freedom rides in 1961, black people and white people couldn’t be seated together on a Greyhound bus leaving this city. They travel to the South without being beaten, arrested and jailed.

Now all across the South and all across America there are elected officials who are people of color. In the recent elections in Virginia and some other places around the country, you saw more people of color and more women getting elected to positions of power. They are African American, they’re Latino, Asian American, Native American. Our country is a much better place–a much different place–in spite of all the setbacks and interruptions of progress.

I heard Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. say on many occasions, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” I still believe we will get there. We will redeem the soul of America, and in doing so we will inspire people around the world to stand up and speak out. I believe that it’s true today, and it was true when Dr. King said it years ago. I tell friends and family, colleagues and especially young people that when you see something that’s not right or fair, you have to do something, you have to speak up, you have to get in the way. When I was growing up, my mother and father and grandparents would tell me, “Don’t get in trouble. This is the way it is.” But then I heard Dr. King speak when I was 15. To hear him preach, to be in a discussion with him sitting on the floor, or in a car, or at a meeting in a restaurant or a church, or just walking together … He instilled something within us. I never in my years around him saw him down. Never saw him hostile or mean to a single person.

Dr. King and others inspired me to get in what I call good trouble, necessary trouble. And I think we’re going to have generations for years to come that will be prepared to get in trouble, good trouble, necessary trouble. And lead us to higher heights. It’s a struggle that doesn’t last one day, one week, one month, one year. It is the struggle of a lifetime, or maybe many lifetimes.

The next generation will help make this society less conscious of race. There will be less racism, there will be more tolerance. Dr. King said we must learn to live together as brothers and sisters. There was a man by the name of A. Philip Randolph, from Jacksonville, Fla., who moved to New York City and became a champion of civil rights, human rights and labor rights. At the March on Washington in 1963 he said, “Remember our mothers and our fore-fathers all came to this great land in different ships. But we’re all in the same boat now.” That is true today.

You have to be hopeful. You have to be optimistic. If not, you will get lost in despair. When I travel around the country, I say, “Don’t get down–you cannot get down.” I’m not down. I got arrested, beaten, left bloody and unconscious. But I haven’t given up. And you cannot give up.

~~~

January 1, 2018

Hymn, by Sherman Alexie

Hymn
Why do we measure people's capacity
To love by how well they love their progeny?
That kind of love is easy. Encoded.
Any lion can be devoted
To its cubs. Any insect, be it prey
Or predator, worships its own DNA.
Like the wolf, elephant, bear, and bees,
We humans are programmed to love what we conceive.
That's why it's so shocking when a neighbor
Drives his car into a pond and slaughter–
Drowns his children. And that's why we curse
The mother who leaves her kids—her hearth—
And never returns. That kind of betrayal
Rattles our souls. That shit is biblical.
So, yes, we should grieve an ocean
When we encounter a caretaker so broken.
But I'm not going to send you a card
For being a decent parent. It ain't that hard
To love somebody who resembles you.
If you want an ode then join the endless queue
Of people who are good to their next of kin—
Who somehow love people with the same chin
And skin and religion and accent and eyes.
So you love your sibling? Big fucking surprise.
But how much do you love the strange and stranger?
Hey, Caveman, do you see only danger
When you peer into the night? Are you afraid
Of the country that exists outside of your cave?
Hey, Caveman, when are you going to evolve?
Are you still baffled by the way the earth revolves
Around the sun and not the other way around?
Are you terrified by the ever-shifting ground?
Hey, Trump, I know you weren't loved enough
By your sandpaper father, who roughed and roughed
And roughed the world. I have some empathy
For the boy you were. But, damn, your incivility,
Your volcanic hostility, your lists
Of enemies, your moral apocalypse—
All of it makes you dumb and dangerous.
You are the Antichrist we need to antitrust.
Or maybe you're only a minor league
Dictator—temporary, small, and weak.
You've wounded our country. It might heal.
And yet, I think of what you've revealed
About the millions and millions of people
Who worship beneath your tarnished steeple.
Those folks admire your lack of compassion.
They think it's honest and wonderfully old-fashioned.
They call you traditional and Christian.
LOL! You've given them permission
To be callous. They have been rewarded
For being heavily armed and heavily guarded.
You've convinced them that their deadly sins
(Envy, wrath, greed) have transformed into wins.
Of course, I'm also fragile and finite and flawed.
I have yet to fully atone for the pain I've caused.
I'm an atheist who believes in grace if not in God.
I'm a humanist who thinks that we’re all not
Humane enough. I think of someone who loves me—
A friend I love back—and how he didn't believe
How much I grieved the death of Prince and his paisley.
My friend doubted that anyone could grieve so deeply
The death of any stranger, especially a star.
"It doesn't feel real," he said. If I could play guitar
And sing, I would have turned purple and roared
One hundred Prince songs—every lick and chord—
But I think my friend would have still doubted me.
And now, in the context of this poem, I can see
That my friend’s love was the kind that only burns
In expectation of a fire in return.
He’s no longer my friend. I mourn that loss.
But, in the Trump aftermath, I've measured the costs
And benefits of loving those who don't love
Strangers. After all, I'm often the odd one—
The strangest stranger—in any field or room.
"He was weird" will be carved into my tomb.
But it’s wrong to measure my family and friends
By where their love for me begins or ends.
It’s too easy to keep a domestic score.
This world demands more love than that. More.
So let me ask demanding questions: Will you be
Eyes for the blind? Will you become the feet
For the wounded? Will you protect the poor?
Will you welcome the lost to your shore?
Will you battle the blood-thieves
And rescue the powerless from their teeth?
Who will you be? Who will I become
As we gather in this terrible kingdom?
My friends, I'm not quite sure what I should do.
I'm as angry and afraid and disillusioned as you.
But I do know this: I will resist hate. I will resist.
I will stand and sing my love. I will use my fist
To drum and drum my love. I will write and read poems
That offer the warmth and shelter of any good home.
I will sing for people who might not sing for me.
I will sing for people who are not my family.
I will sing honor songs for the unfamilar and new.
I will visit a different church and pray in a different pew.
I will silently sit and carefully listen to new stories
About other people’s tragedies and glories.
I will not assume my pain and joy are better.
I will not claim my people invented gravity or weather.
And, oh, I know I will still feel my rage and rage and rage
But I won’t act like I’m the only person onstage.
I am one more citizen marching against hatred.
Alone, we are defenseless. Collected, we are sacred.
We will march by the millions. We will tremble and grieve.
We will praise and weep and laugh. We will believe.
We will be courageous with our love. We will risk danger
As we sing and sing and sing to welcome strangers.
©2017, Sherman Alexie

~~~

December 25, 2017

Let America Be America Again

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,
America!

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!