The bureau’s gripe with the poet began in 1940 when he spoke at a luncheon for the International Union of Revolutionary Writers in Pasadena, California. An advertisement for the event featured Hughes’ poem “Goodbye Christ,” which got the F.B.I.’s attention with lines that denounce Christ, saying he should be replaced by “Marx Communist Lenin Peasant Stalin Worker ME.”
In April 1943, the F.B.I. also took issue with a speech Hughes delivered at the W. Federal Street branch of the Youngstown Y.M.C.A. The bureau official reporting on the event wrote of Hughes:
This person is an “alleged” poet, reader, etc., but in reality he is a Communist Party propagandist delivering his lectures in negro YMCA’s and under the auspices of intellectuals.
Later that year on November 5, the F.B.I. compiled an internal security report on Hughes, bringing attention to the poems “Goodbye Christ” (they note that their copy was “secured from the Enemy Alien Squad [and the] New York City Police Department”) and “One More ‘S’ in the U.S.A. Workers Sons” (“To make it Soviet,” as the poem explains).
During this time, the F.B.I. and the United States at large were obviously embroiled in the Cold War, but it’s still astounding to learn that a few poems could be considered a priority in terms of national security. A section of the report even insinuates that measures were taken to prevent the poetry’s circulation.