Home > Uncategorized > February 1 – Langston Hughes

February 1 – Langston Hughes

On this day, February 1, 1902, one of America’s most prolific Black writers was born. He was a novelist, poet, short-story writer, columnist, and playwright, and through his words, he sought to instill a sense of racial consciousness and cultural pride in all others of African descent.

Who was this man who would one day write:

The younger Negro artists who create now intend to express
our individual dark-skinned selves without fear or shame.
If white people are pleased we are glad. If they are not,
it doesn’t matter. We know we are beautiful. And ugly, too…

– Excerpt from “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain”

James Mercer Langston Hughes was born in Joplin, Missouri to parents who were of mixed African-American, European-American and Native American descent. His parents would eventually divorce, and Hughes was raised primarily by his maternal grandmother, Mary Patterson Langston. Her husband, Charles Henry Langston had fought for the abolition of slavery and the right of Blacks to vote, and her brother-in-law, John Mercer Langston was the first African American to be elected to the U.S. Congress. These influences likely instilled the strong sense of activism and pride that Langston Hughes would carry over into his future works.

Hughes began writing at an early age, and was elected Class Poet in the 8th grade. In high school, he started writing short stories and plays. He studied Engineering briefly at Columbia University in New York, but soon quit to focus on writing and other interests he was exposed to in the neighborhood of Harlem.

The subject of his writing often centered on working class Blacks, their struggles and their hopes, their joys and their sorrows. In a time of segregation and intense racism, he sought to give Blacks the strength and courage of a shared identity while simultaneously lashing out at the internal divisions he saw in the Black community. He also called on other Black artists never to “surrender racial pride in the name of a false integration.” In his mind, Black writers and artists who actively suppressed or minimized their Black voice in the hopes of winning acceptance from White peers or audience were guilty of making an unforgivable compromise.

Ironically, by the time of his death in 1967, at a time when the country was making huge strides towards racial integration and equality, his popularity waned amongst Black writers, many of whom found Hughes’s stance too ‘racially chauvinistic.’ Nevertheless, to this day, Langston Hughes remains one of the most revered and influential Black writers in literary history. His life’s works (16 books of poems, 2 novels, 3 collections of short stories, 4 volumes of editorial and documentary fiction, 20 plays, 3 autobiographies, children’s poetry, musicals, operas, and many magazine articles and radio and television scripts) have left an indelible mark on African American history, literature and music.

thanks for reading,

francis

“My seeking has been to explain and illuminate the Negro condition in America and obliquely that of all human kind.” – Langston Hughes

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