What Is "Refugees in America" by Langston Hughes About?

Langston Hughes' famous "Refugees in America" was first published in the Saturday Evening Post in 1943, addressing issues of equality for all Americans. At a time still long before the Civil Rights Movement, during a war when the army of the United States was still segregated, Hughes' poem reflects upon the most idealized dreams of American life. It also reflects on the failure to achieve balance across races.

Throughout the poem, the prized values of liberty, freedom and democracy are enough to bring the author to tears. He is lost in an achingly beautiful moment where he realizes what belonging in America is all about. On the other hand, Hughes tells his reader that the true nature of those tears cannot be understood without knowing "what he knew." Here, Hughes makes clear that, for the African-American reader, these tears are born from longing, from the persistent reality that continued to make genuine freedom and equality beyond his or her reach.

As in a great many other poems of his, Hughes uses simple language and popular ideals to make the poem accessible to all people, not just intellectual or literary elites. It was important to Hughes that his own inner experience was not divorced from that of his community as a whole. According to his Academy of American Poets biography, Hughes "differed from most of his predecessors among black poets...in that he addressed his poetry to the people, specifically black people." He used "languages and themes, attitudes and ideals, familiar to anyone who had simply the ability to read."