Piano Miniature No. 13, “America Never Was America to Me” (2013)
Commissioned by Myrna Cook for Nicholas Phillips
On the fiftieth anniversary of Martin Luther King’s I Have A Dream speech, I wrote an elegy for an unarmed black teenager who was shot and killed by a man who was suspicious of his appearance. The fact that Trayvon Martin was gunned down and his killer legally acquitted of his murder in 2013 has, not secretly, been a cause for grief among people of color in the United States today.
In the days that followed, on my regular daily walks thorough the streets of Manhattan the words of Langston Hughes’ poem, Let America Be America Again, rang through my head. I’d memorized the poem as a kid and its darkest lines seemed particularly poignant today:
(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)
Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?
I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.
With the sounds of street-life, these verses intermingled with the percussive sounds of anger. I sat down a few days later and, over the course of a few hours, these sounds became my 13th Piano Miniature. The work is dedicated, respectfully, to the memory of Trayvon Martin and takes its title from the most hopeful lines in Langston Hughes’ poem:
O, yes, I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be! –
– Mohammed Fairouz (2013)