February 1, 2016

Happy Birthday: Langston Hughes (1902-1967)

Langston Hughes was born in Joplin, MO on this date in 1902. He began writing poetry while attending Central High School in Cleveland, OH. He was educated at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania.

Click here to view most of the literary works of Langston Hughes!

He was an influential figure in the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920's. Hughes spent time in Paris and after returning to the United States, he worked as a busboy in Washington, D.C. It was there in 1925, that his literary skills were discovered after he left three of his poems beside the plate of American poet Vachel Lindsay, who recognized Hughes's abilities and helped publicize his work.

Langston Hughes was active in social and political causes, using his poetry as a vehicle for cultural protest. He traveled to the Soviet Union, Haiti, and Japan, and he served as the Madrid correspondent for a Baltimore newspaper during the Spanish Civil War. Hughes wrote over 50 books and his drama Mulatto was performed 373 times on Broadway. Hughes also became known for the character Jesse B. Simple that he created in the 1940's for the Chicago Defender & New York Post. The humor and dialect of Jesse Simple disguised his common sense while depicting the everyday American experiences of Black citizens.

Langston Hughes died in 1967.

Let America be America Again
Originally published in Esquire and in the International Worker Order pamphlet A New Song (1938)

Let America be America again. Let it be the dream it used to be. Let it be the pioneer on the plain Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed-- Let it be that great strong land of love Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath, But opportunity is real, and life is free, Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There's never been equality for me, Nor freedom in this "homeland of the free.")

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark? And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart, I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars. I am the red man driven from the land, I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek-- And finding only the same old stupid plan Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope, Tangled in that ancient endless chain Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land! Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need! Of work the men! Of take the pay! Of owning everything for one's own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil. I am the worker sold to the machine. I am the Negro, servant to you all. I am the people, humble, hungry, mean-- Hungry yet today despite the dream. Beaten yet today--O, Pioneers! I am the man who never got ahead, The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I'm the one who dreamt our basic dream In the Old World while still a serf of kings, Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true, That even yet its mighty daring sings In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned That's made America the land it has become. O, I'm the man who sailed those early seas In search of what I meant to be my home-- For I'm the one who left dark Ireland's shore, And Poland's plain, and England's grassy lea, And torn from Black Africa's strand I came To build a "homeland of the free."

The free?

Who said the free? Not me? Surely not me? The millions on relief today? The millions shot down when we strike? The millions who have nothing for our pay? For all the dreams we've dreamed And all the songs we've sung And all the hopes we've held And all the flags we've hung, The millions who have nothing for our pay-- Except the dream that's almost dead today.

O, let America be America again-- The land that never has been yet-- And yet must be--the land where every man is free. The land that's mine--the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's, ME-- Who made America, Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain, Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain, Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose-- The steel of freedom does not stain. From those who live like leeches on the people's lives, We must take back our land again, America!

O, yes, I say it plain, America never was America to me, And yet I swear this oath-- America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death, The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies, We, the people, must redeem The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers. The mountains and the endless plain-- All, all the stretch of these great green states-- And make America again!

Do you have any thoughts about Langston Hughes? What is your favorite literary work by Bro. Hughes?


msladydeborah said...

Hotep Villager!

It amazing how the truth told in one century applies to this one too.

A great way to spend Inspirational Sunday and to start of Black History Month.

Villager said...

Lady D - Amen! We probably should do more to spread information about this weekly meme with our Kinfolk and others...

teamowens313 said...

A truly phenomenal writer. Anyone who's really into Langston ought to read his two-volume biography. It's very long, but extremely informative and fascinating. Just the mechanics of what it took for a black man of that era to pull off the miraculous feat of becoming a full-time writer is in itself an inspiration to writers everywhere. I've always loved Langston's poems, but I love his fictional short stories even better.

Aanthony Thompson said...

I am Anthony Thompson AKA Ade. I serve as co-founder, artistic director / project manager for The Langston Hughes Cultural Enrichment Movement. I became interest in the works of Hughes at an young age. Langston was an ordinary man hoo was honored to be a part of the African-American working class community. His strong racial pride allowed him to present his character with dignity and pride. He became the Negro Poet of his people. Please visit www.hughesculturalenrichment.webs.com to view our work and langston Hughes art exhibition.

Aanthony Thompson said...

Langston Hughes lived among and loved his people. He was not ashame of his race and created his characters with dignity. He never sold out to make money, gain acceptance in white society, or for personal gain. I serve as co-founder, artistic director / project manager for the langston Hughes Cultural Enrichment Movement. Currently we are planning events to celebrate Hughes' 110th birthday. For more info visit www.hughesculturalenrichment.webs.com.

Villager said...

Aanthony - Thank you for sharing your assessment of the character of Langston Hughes. I updated this blog post so that the first link goes to your website.