Recorded for 'Langston Hughes reads Langston Hughes'
We are the American heartbreak —
The rock on which Freedom
Stumped its toe —
The great mistake
That Jamestown made
That is one of my poems about the problems of the Negro people in relation to American democracy. Perhaps we should say the problems of American democracy in relation to the Negro people, because for some reason the Negro in America has always been called “a problem.”
Well, I guess we are.
Many of my poems try to capture various aspects of this problem. I’ve written poems about housing. For example, when Negroes move into some American communities, even if it’s just one Negro family moving into a block, within a few days, sign begin to go up: “For Sale.” And, usually, the real estate brokers who handle the sales double the prices on those houses — because they know that Negro people often have a hard time buying decent homes, and so they charge them more for the homes that eventually they are willing to sell them.
Well, I try to put these things — these problems — into poetry. In recent years, more and more Americans have been leaving the big cities for suburban areas and among them have been a number of Negroes who are able to buy homes in the suburbs. Well, if those folks move to, say, Saint Albans, white people flee from Saint Albans, move a little further out on Long Island. Negroes — those of means — then themselves try to move a little further out on Long Island, white people flee a little further, and after a while … you get to the ocean.
So, I suppose, suburbia eventually will be only in the sea — I don’t know where else it could be, around New York, at any rate.
Here is the complete poem