The Dream Not Yet Realized

The dream deferred in the famous Langston Hughes poem of 1951 and the dream not yet realized
in the even more well known ‘I Have a Dream Speech’ by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1963
are one in the same. You may wonder what dream both men from opposite ends of the same
country, creating literary works 12 years apart could have possibly shared. But the answer
is simple. The dream each man described, though very differently- was one of freedom, one
of equality- a necessary realization of the true capacity for greatness America could hold
when all its citizens are treated as human beings regardless of their color or creed, and a
warning of the detriment to society the failure to realize such a dream would ultimately

In the Hughes poem, ‘A Dream Deferred,’ the poet juxtaposes the two most extreme ways an
unrealized dream can affect the dreamer. Using poignant imagery and language he paints a
picture of the violent outcome of inequality and at the same times depicts the tired, weary
state of the downtrodden African population in America. With stanzas such as, “Does it dry
up like a raisin in the sun- or fester like a sore- and then run?” Hughes utilizes similes
to suggest that this dream of freedom and equality has been put off for so long that the
dreamers- African Americans- are so weary from struggle and agitated from being ignored that
they are more than likely to shrivel up and die from exhaustion or begin rioting in the
streets in enraged protest at the system that continues to defer their dream.

From history we know that in the 1950s- the dream of equality for Black people had hardly been realized. The Black population in America faced injustice after injustice as the judicial system tried to come to terms with an awakening sense of shame while continuously implimenting new ways to financially, politically, physically, socially and psychologically confine people of
color to their supposed role as peons. The dream had not been realized but it was made REAL
by the likes of Langston Hughes. In the decades that followed the work of Hughes and
others during the Harlem Renaissance- the discourse on racial equality in America would
change drastically.

In the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. expertly expresses the urgency of
immediate steps toward equality, harmony among all races, creeds and religions, and the
dangers of a failure to heed the ever present discontent among America’s Black citizens. He
also makes reference to American legislation and music, African American Baptist church
hymns and an American President which I feel adds to the efficacy and depth of the speech.
Lines such as, “It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This
sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an
invigorating autumn of freedom and equality.”

Dr. King effectively demands that African Americans be granted their rights as citizens in a logical fashion. He also utilizes emotion to make his points not only to those who would oppress people of color, but to his constituents as well. He reasons, “In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.” King takes every angle you could think of and
addresses each in a well crafted, holistic, inclusive call to arms for those in power to
fulfill the American promise of freedom and for all citizens to work together toward
achieving that freedom. In 1963, 12 years after Hughes warned of the dangers that could
follow this dream deferred, Dr. King was making the same warning.

Has the dream Hughes and Dr. King referred to all those years ago been realized? Of course
not. The once overt, in your face and brash form of racism has been replaced with a quiet,
quickly covered up and easily explained away version- but it still exists. In the wake of
drastic improvements such as the right to vote and social welfare programs that benefit the
historically and systematically downtrodden- new issues have arisen. The Jim crow era has
been replaced with Cuny tuition hikes and ridiculous unemployment rates. New age lynchings
take place in dimly lit hallways, allies and dark streets where cops repeatedly shoot down
men of color after “mistakenly identifying” objects such as sticks and wallets as guns and
later reasoning they “felt their lives were in danger.” Young women of color are made to
believe sex appeal equates beauty thanks to the representation of women of color in the
media. But no one wants to fund planned parenthood when the same misled girls end up
pregnant at 16.

On paper it would appear that Black people and everyone else are working on a level playing
feild- at least from a legislative stand point- with all the laws against discrimination,
amendments to grant voting rights, etc. But the statistics showcase the harsh reality of how
differently people of certain ethnicities are paid for the same jobs, how drastically the
graduation rates for young people of color differ from that of their constituents of other
ethnicities and other sobering facts. The ramifications of 400 years of slavery and its after
math will not be easily dealt with or quickly overcome. People of color have certainly won
some battles in the past century- but the war is far from over. The relevance and resonance
of the works of Hughes and King in present day America attest to that fact.


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