I, Too, Am America
Illustrated by Bryan Collier, Written by Langston Hughes
I, too, sing America.
I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.
Langston Hughes was a courageous voice of his time, and his authentic call for equality still rings true today. Beautiful paintings from Barack Obama illustrator Bryan Collier accompany and reinvent the celebrated lines of the poem “I, Too,” creating a breathtaking reminder to all Americans that we are united despite our differences.
Primary Source Pairing:
The Pullman Porters were African American men who worked on railroad cars beginning in the late 1860s until nearly 100 years later. These jobs were some of the best African American men could have during that time period. Pullman Porters assisted with many jobs on the trains including welcoming passengers, carrying luggage, preparing the sleeping arrangments, waiting tables and serving drinks, shining shoes, and tidying the train cars. The illustrations by Bryan Collier show the Pullman Porters doing some of these jobs. The Illustrator’s Note in the back of the books talks more about the job of Pullman Porter and Langston Hughes’ poem that serves as the text in the book. For this primary source pairing, invite students to study a photograph of a Pullman Porter from 1942. Do not give any item information to the students at first. Encourage students to guess what the Pullman Porter is doing in this image. Once a full analysis has been done, unveil the details about the image and discuss.
Additionally, use the Illustrator’s Note as a guide to study the illustrations in the book. Use the book as a primary source and analyze the illustrations taking special notice of how the American flag is used in the artwork.
Questions for Discussion:
- Describe what you see.
- What do you notice first?
- What people and objects are shown?
- How are they arranged?
- What is the physical setting?
- What, if any, words do you see?
- What other details can you see?
- Why do you think this image was made?
- What’s happening in the image?
- When do you think it was made?
- What can you learn from examining this image?
- If someone took a photograph at these locations today, what would be different?
- What would be the same?
Book Cover and Summary: Follett
Photograph of Pullman Porter, 1942: Library of Congress