Although Langston Hughes originally titled this poem "Harlem," it was changed to "Dream Deferred" when it was first published in 1951. Hughes wanted this poem to speak to the Black experience in Harlem during his day. This Manhattan neighborhood had one of the largest Black populations in the country and was a center of Black cultural expression. In fact, the proliferation of Black artistic creation of the time came to be known as the Harlem Renaissance.
Despite this, the constant bombardment of racism kept hindering the progress of the Black community. Hughes wanted this poem to serve as a rallying cry to the people of Harlem and beyond to stay true to their dreams and aspirations despite the pushback they might receive from other forces.
The original publisher of this poem, Henry Holt and Company, changed the title to "Dream Deferred," taken from the poem's first line. This change gives the poem a broader focus. While the title "Harlem" draws the reader's attention to the vibrant neighborhood and the cultural renaissance taking place there, "Dream Deferred" asks the more universal question of what happens when we put our aspirations on hold.
It is also likely that the publisher wanted the name of the poem to be changed to better align with the theme of the collection in which it was published, Montage of a Dream Deferred. By calling the poem "Dream Deferred," this poem more directly points to the larger work of which it is a part and aligns with the theme that runs throughout this larger volume.