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dreams (1944) Editors’ Note: Dealing with West’s thoughts on the “American Dream,” this essay first appeared as one of his “Superintendent’s Columns” in the March 1944 issue of the Monthly Scrapper, the Lula-Bellton high school newspaper. From 1942 until 1945,West served as the superintendent of the public school in Lula, Georgia.Along with local distribution, West sent the Scrapper to other educators, writers, and activists on a nationwide mailing list, drawing considerable interest and support. Mountain Life and Work republished the essay in its summer 1944 issue. Childhood memories last longer and sometimes influence us more than we think.That’s why it’s so important that children have proper environment and training in those formative periods. I remember a certain old fellow back in the north Georgia mountains where I was brought up who termed himself a “practical man.” “The Devil,” he said, “is a practical man, too, but God is a dreamer.” He explained the evil and misery of the world that way. And, in our parts, it seemed a pretty good explanation , for the affairs of evil seemed to go forward with great efficiency while the cause of the righteous seemed often to stumble and progress was hard to see. Old Kim Mulkey, my grand-dad, had a different idea, though. He was even then an old man and I was a little boy, but he talked to me like I was a grown person—or maybe he was young like me. He talked to me about dreaming. He said man could never cease dreaming,and he urged me to dream,for then, he said, I would never grow old. He said there wasn’t much we’d ever done with our hands that hadn’t existed first as a dream. Storytellers, he said, had spun tales and created legends of men in bird-like movement through space for generations. Man dreamed of imitating the birds for ages before the Wright brothers finally managed to lift their crude contraption off the ground. My grand-father said dreaming was different from thinking. No man can really shake a dream out of his head, and he wanted me, little boy that I was, 01.Prose.1-blnk 96/West 12/2/03, 11:48 AM 42 selected prose 43 to see the universe as a wondrous and unfinished vision. For once a man has a dream, his eyes will try to find it or his hands to fashion it. Nothing can stop him. He can’t stop himself. The hungry man dreams of food, and man hungers not alone for food. The sick dream of cures, the slave dreams of freedom and young people dream of love. Out of our pain, and needs and longings come the visions we strive to put together with our hands,or pound out of life with our labor.Man’s dominant dream for centuries, my grand-father said, has been one of an abundant, free and friendly society.In every generation this dream has driven man to the cross, the dungeon, the stake, or the jail. America—lusty,youthful,daring—dreamed well and worked vigorously for that dream. We founded a democracy and opened a frontier that attracted all the dreamers of the world. Men do not pull up roots and cross an ocean to a wild and uncharted land unless they are capable of great dreams. Each came with grim determination to create in living reality the vision in his heart. We ripped up forests, cleared farms, raised cities, dug mines, dammed rivers , tied the East to the West with railroad tracks and strung it with wires carrying the human voice from New York to California. We produced a George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Tom Paine, and Abe Lincoln. We freed the slaves and united a nation torn asunder by bloody civil war. The dream was always here. The American dream is strong, vigorous. It is not easily crushed or discouraged, for it was born from the brains of strong men and women—revolutionists and pioneers. It has come down from generation to generation. It is a composite of all the fire and courage and laughter in history. It is sure and relentless. This American dream is bigger even than big America. It is the hope of all humanity everywhere for a decent, friendly society, where a man can live and work and laugh and be free and have friends.It is not something merely to...


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