Langston Hughes and One of his Greatest Title’s
James Mercer Langston Hughes or more commonly known as just Langston Hughes, was an african american poet, social activist, novelist, playwright, and columnist. Hughes was born on February 1, 1902, to James Nathaniel Hughes and Caroline Mercer Langston, in Joplin, Missouri; while he was young his parents got a divorce. Hughes’ father moved first to Cuba and then Mexico soon after. His mother traveled in search of work while he was sent to live with his maternal grandmother. As Hughes recalled in his memoir, Mary Patterson Langston often took her small grandson in her lap and told him stories about abolitionists and courageous slaves who struggled for their freedom. He was raised by his grandmother until he was thirteen, when he moved to Lincoln, Illinois, to live with his mother and her husband, before the family eventually settled in Cleveland, Ohio. Hughes grew up, not as a “full” African American but rather as a “mix”. Both of his parents were of mixed descent. Hughes’s mother came from a distinguished family of respected black educators and activists. Langston Hughes’s great-uncle on his mother’s side, John Mercer Langston, was the first black Congressman from Virginia. His grandmother, Mary Patterson Langston, attended Oberlin College at a time when few women of any race were able to pursue higher education. Mary Patterson Langston’s first husband died in John Brown’s Ferry, and her second husband—Langston Hughes’s maternal grandfather—was an activist for abolition and black education. It was in Lincoln that Hughes began writing poetry.
After graduating from high school, he spent a year in Mexico followed by a year at Columbia University in New York City. During this time, he held odd jobs such as assistant cook, launderer, and busboy.He also travelled to Africa and Europe working as a seaman. In November 1924, he moved to Washington, D. C. Hughes’s first book of poetry, The Weary Blues, was published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1926. He finished his college education at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania three years later. In 1930 his first novel, Not Without Laughter, won the Harmon gold medal for literature. Hughes was often referred as one of the founding fathers of the Harlem Renaissance ( An intellectual, social, and artistic explosion centered in Harlem, New York, spanning the 1920s.) He fought for social justice and racial equality through his poems and his popularity among so many people. During the 1930’s Hughes travelled to places such as, Japan, Haiti and even the Soviet Union, these were for lecture tours and to learn new things abroad. He continued to write and publish poetry and prose, in 1934 he published his first collection of short stories. It was called The Ways of White Folks. In the late 1940’s Hughes became so popular and successful that he was looked upon to write lyrics for the Broadway musical, Street Scene. After a long and successful life of pushing the boundaries of racial “norms” and fighting for equality, Langston Hughes died on May 22, 1967 by prostate cancer at the age of 65 years old.
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Langston Hughes was popular coming from the 1920’s through the 1960’s. He wrote many poems that had the theme of going against inequality and racial discrimination, especially of blacks in a peaceful and elegant way . One of his greatest and most well known poems, Theme for English B fights for exactly what he supported in a very elegant, intelligent and peaceful way.
The poem starts off with the prompt of “Go home and write a page tonight. And let that page come out of you.Then, it will be true.” The colored 22 year old was asked to write about this by his white profesor. He attends a college “on the hill above Harlem”. He walks us through the steps it takes for him to get home and begin working on his assignment, “The steps from the hill lead down into Harlem, through a park, then I cross St. Nicholas, Eighth Avenue, Seventh, and I come to the Y, the Harlem Branch Y, where I take the elevator up to my room, sit down, and write this page”
Through his poem “Theme for English B”, Langston Hughes expresses his will to exterminate discrimination by proving that despite different skin colors, Americans all share similarities and learn from each other. Langston wrote the poem in the 1900’s , when African Americans were not considered Americans. When he got home to start his page, he began wondering “if it’s that simple”. He begins describing himself, he is “twenty-two”, “the only colored in class”, and lives in the poor community Harlem. He also describes himself as just like everyone else “ Well, I like to eat, sleep, drink, and be in love.” “ I like to work, read, learn, and understand life.” When he says these things it, to me, is understood that these are regular normal things that everyone thinks about and enjoys doing. “I guess being colored doesn’t make me not like the same things other folks like who are other races.” Here he is proving his point of him liking normal things. It normalizes him instead of making people think that just because he is colored he is completely new and different compared to whites. I love that Hughes does this, because it shows that he understands the way everyone thinks about blacks and knows the perfect words to counteract these derogatory feelings towards blacks.
Next Hughes does something big, he compares himself to his professor, who is not only white, but a well respected man that is seen higher as even his white students. Hughes says “But it will be a part of you, instructor.You are white yet a part of me, as I am a part of you. That’s American.” He’s saying that no matter what, he is connected to the professor, even if he’s white, because he is American just like everyone else.
Hughes is well known for fighting social injustice, and in this last stanza of his poem Theme for English B, he shows that he’s not afraid to talk about the elephant in the room. “Sometimes perhaps you don’t want to be a part of me. Nor do I often want to be a part of you. But we are, that’s true! As I learn from you, I guess you learn from me although you’re older and white and somewhat more free.” This is a big power move on Hughes’ part, it shows yet another way that they are equal and connected is their lack of wanting to be part each other sometimes. But at the end of the day they are equal and connected. He says that he is equal to him even though he is older, white and “ somewhat more free”, even though there is that social distinction between them, he still chooses to say that they are completely equal–which they are–.”