“New day a-comin’ for the land called U.S.A.”
As a former Marine, occasional public schoolteacher, pastor and friend, I have tried whenever possible to help my young friends of color latch onto role models which maximize the achievements of life. Sometimes, as a white pastor, my choices are not always commonly appreciated in all cultures. No matter. I do what I can, what I know.
Decades ago, I was pastoring (and substitute teaching) in Hardin County, Ky. Our school system was predominately white, which reflected the demographics of the overall community. One young chap caught my fancy. He was a child of color, of tremendous natural intellect. He truly had a bright mind. We were working on poetry—white poetry. I began to cast about for work that would give him a good positive image of his culture, when I stumbled across a collection of poems by Langston Hughes. My lad’s grandmother had returned to central Kentucky from Harlem, N.Y. Hughes was a grandmother’s boy as my lad was, as I had been.
September 11, 2001, when terror shot through the heart of America, when New Yorkers earned the respect and empathy of the free and reasonable world, I remembered a poem by Langston Hughes.
Langston (James Mercer) Hughes was born on February 1, 1902, in Joplin, Mo. He died in New York City on May 22, 1967. His dad moved to Mexico when Langston was a wee lad. His mom and grandmother moved about, seeking employment to help raise the lad. Hughes grew up and educated himself by the sweat of his brow. He spent time aboard merchant ships, trudging foreign soil, and waiting tables in Washington, D.C.
Hughes was in and out of formal educational institutions from the early 1900s through 1929. When he graduated from Lincoln University, Pennsylvania, he was already a published author. His works have rhythm. His stories, his poems, are best spoken, for they come quickly alive in the speaking, in the hearing.
Langston died in the flurry of the birth of the American Civil Rights movement. I would not like to put words in his mouth about how far we have or have not come. But this poem ministers to me. I would like to speak the poem for all the people of color who feel wounded, disenfranchised, by the awful happenings of recent weeks. Read aloud with me:
A New Wind a Blowin’
“There’s a brand new wind a-blowin’ down that Lincoln road.
There’s a brand new hope a-growin’ down where freedom’s seeds are sowed.
There’s a new truth we’ll be knowin’ that will lift our heavy load,
When we find out what free men can really do.
There’s a brand new day a-comin’ for the land called U.S.A.
New tunes we’ll be a-strummin’ in our hearts by night and day.
As we march on we’ll be hummin’, how our troubles’ gone away,
‘Cause we’ve found out what free men can really do.
And if you feel like dancin’ then, why come on folks, and dance!
And if you feel like prancin’ then, why come on folks, and prance!
‘Cause I really ain’t romancin’ when I say we’ve got our chance
To show ‘em what free men can really do.
There’’s a brand new wind a-blowin’ thru a land that’s proud and free.
Ev’rywhere there’s folks a-wakin’ to a truth that’s bound to be.
So let’s all pull together for that day of victory,
And we’ll show ‘em what free men can really do!”
When Hughes died, he had over 27 volumes in print, 10 of which were poetry. He had been a newspaper reporter and columnist, and a lyricist for Kurt Weill (a German music composer). He had translated poetry from Spanish into English. His travels, his ethnicity, gave his pen a ripeness, which many found sharp, and at times offensive. His was a distinctive voice. If Langston Hughes were alive today, he would have had a voice cataloging the 2001 horror, as well as our 2020 hometown street violence.
Violence rings ‘round this globe we call home in almost every pocket of habitation. Not only do we need cry for an end to the current violence: Europe. the British Isles, Mediterranean crescent, sandy deserts, far off embassies, barracks (with sleeping Marines), primitive tribes, Olympic athletes, children of Palestine and Israel—all have been victims of horrendous, unspeakable attacks. Worldwide, adults are teaching children how to hate. Americans are rioting in the streets, killing police officers…
My prayers are for an end to violence, for an out-breaking of peace, like the world has never known. I have a savior who commands me to work for peace. A quotation noble appears from time to time. It reads: “If you want justice, work for peace.” Join me in prayers for peace. Peace—not just in our corner of the world, but peace wrapped around the wide span of our planet.
In numerous tragedies, politicians, church leaders and commentators have called us to prayer. America responded. I pray it not to just be a season of prayer, but an attitude, even a lifestyle of prayer that settles in upon all of us. Truly there is “a new wind a’blowin.” Surely we are (as a nation) up to the task to which we’re called. “Let’s show ‘em what free men can do.”