Saturday, February 24, 2018

Library Way: Langston Hughes and a Refugee in America

"Refugee in America" is referred to as "Words Like Freedom" on Library Way.

The poem on the plaque commemorating Langston Hughes on Library Way in New York City is identified as Words Like Freedom. A Google search of the title will come up with 201,000,000 results. Add Langston Hughes' name to the search and your total drops to 636,000 results. Google Refugee in America and you will see 2,680,000 results. Add Langston Hughes name to that search and your total becomes 140,000.

Refugee in America

There are words like Freedom
Sweet and wonderful to say.
On my heart strings freedom sings
All day everyday.

There are words like Liberty
That almost make me cry.
If you had known what I know
You would know why.

— Langston Hughes

The discrepancy in search values is interesting because the name of the Langston Hughes poem on Library Way is in fact Refugee in America. In Selected Poems of Langston Hughes (Knopf, 1959) Refugee in America appears under a section of poems entitled, Words Like Freedom. Perhaps that explains the confusion.

In 1996, the New York Public Library, the Grand Central Partnership and the New Yorker Magazine convened a panel of esteemed lovers of the written word and came up with a collection of quotations from the never-ending oeuvre of literature.

These quotes were cast in bronze by New York sculptor Gregg LeFevre and then laid out as sidewalk plaques on E 41st Street in 1998. In 2003, the stretch of E 41st Street from the New York Public Library entrance on Fifth Avenue to Park Avenue was renamed Library Way.

Today, during Black History Month, we celebrate the activist poetry of Langston Hughes. Whether it be a birthday, anniversary or publication date of a seminal work, the Bar None Group will revisit these 40+ quotations from time to time — quotations that inspire one to write, read, explore and embrace literature. We last visited John Greenleaf Whitier.