Martin Luther King Had A Dream, But Langston Hughes Had It First

Before Martin Luther King, there was Langston Hughes. His verse stirred the pot. And while MLK would be the one to organize his people, it was Hughes that first put the dream in his thoughts.

“As I Grew Older”

by Langston Hughes

It was a long time ago.
I have almost forgotten my dream.
But it was there then,
In front of me,
Bright like a sun—
My dream.
And then the wall rose,
Rose slowly,
Between me and my dream.
Rose until it touched the sky—
The wall.
I am black.
I lie down in the shadow.
No longer the light of my dream before me,
Above me.
Only the thick wall.
Only the shadow.
My hands!
My dark hands!
Break through the wall!
Find my dream!
Help me to shatter this darkness,
To smash this night,
To break this shadow
Into a thousand lights of sun,
Into a thousand whirling dreams
Of sun!

An Almost Forgotten Dream

“As I Grew Older” (published in 1926, Weary Blues) is a narrative of a person almost broken (similar to his poem, “I’m Still Here”, about a person never broken). The wall of a terrible oppression has crushed their spirit. With no dream in sight, they lay down in the shadow of a cruel wall. But gaining some momentary gusto, the speaker rises up and asks the community to help break through the wall, find their dream and shatter the darkness. The poem starts off dreary and bleak, but the lower energy of the beginning contrasts with the sudden uplift towards the end. In the end, the poem has an uplifting message: With a little energy, and some support, we can push through our walls and find our dreams.

Langston Hughes

He was, perhaps, the most influential artist of the Harlem Renaissance. He was a man driven by jazz, blues and inequality. His poetry harnessed some of the major themes that would guide Martin Luther King’s leadership: dreams, community and perseverance. Before there was “I Have A Dream”, there was Langston’s dream. Through MLK that dream caught fire. 

Thus the dream becomes not one man’s dream alone,
But a community dream” – 
Langston Hughes, “Freedom’s Plow”