Book

book

Literature
January
336 pp. | 6 1/8 x 9 1/4 | 3 b/w illus.
ISBN 978-0-8130-6044-6 | Printed Case $34.95s

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Origins of the Dream: Hughes’s Poetry and King’s Rhetoric

W. Jason Miller

Since Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, some scholars have privately suspected that King’s “dream” was connected to Langston Hughes’s poetry. Drawing on archival materials, including notes, correspondence, and marginalia, W. Jason Miller provides a completely original and compelling argument that Hughes’s influence on King’s rhetoric was, in fact, evident in more than just the one famous speech.

King’s staff had been wiretapped by J. Edgar Hoover and suffered accusations of communist influence, so quoting or naming the leader of the Harlem Renaissance—who had his own reputation as a communist—would only have intensified the threats against the civil rights activist. Thus, the link was purposefully veiled through careful allusions in King’s orations. In Origins of the Dream, Miller lifts that veil and shows how Hughes’s revolutionary poetry inflected King’s voice. He contends that by employing Hughes’s metaphors in his speeches, King negotiated a political climate that sought to silence the poet’s subversive voice. By separating Hughes’s identity from his poems, King helped the nation unconsciously embrace the incendiary ideas behind his poetry.

W. Jason Miller is associate professor of English at North Carolina State University. He is the author of Langston Hughes and American Lynching Culture.

“A vade mecum for those interested in the cultural ingredients, the political values, and the artistic sensibilities that united Langston Hughes and Martin Luther King, Jr. in spirit, thought, and outlook.  Masterfully conceived, meticulously researched, and gracefully written, this book breaks new ground in the scholarship on both Hughes and King.”

Lewis V. Baldwin,
Author of There is a Bald in Gilead: The Cultural Roots of Martin Luther King, Jr.