James Mercer Langston Hughes, born on February 1, 1902, in Joplin Missouri born to his mother Carrie M. Langston, and father James N. Hughes. Both his parents were born of mixed race descent which made him not entirely black, but rather brown and of mixed race. His non-black ancestry included a white slaveholder who fathered children with a woman he owned, who was of a French and a Cherokee Indian woman. Hughes’s mother came from a family of respected black educators and activists. His great uncle from his mother’s side became the first black congressman who ran for Virginia. Hughes’s grandmother Mary Patterson Langston, attended Oberlin College during a time where not a lot of women attended school to gain an education. Her first husband passed away in John Brown’s Ferry which was a raid against a federal armory in Harpers Ferry Virginia. Her second husband which was Langston Hughes’s maternal grandfather was an activist for abolition and black education so that his people could get an education. Most of his family were educators which made him come from a family of scholars.
After his parents separated, his father moved to Cuba then to Mexico. Hughes was mostly raised by his mother and grandmother, but later then raised by a couple named the Reeds. Growing up, Hughes attended public schools in Kansas and Illinois and was named the class poet for his outstanding writing skills, which sparked up his thirst for poetry. Furthermore, he remembered the value and importance his grandmother had taught him, she told him stories about heroic and courageous slaves who were abolitionists that struggled in order to get away from slavery and gain their freedom. Her tales impressed his nobility and views on black people and the importance of patience and laughter in the coming of hardships. After his grandmother had passed, Hughes didn’t cry nor reacted. Something about her stories taught him the uselessness of crying. Instead, he used the value of laughter as a shield to hide his pain. After the death of his grandmother, Hughes often became a lonely and unsettled child, where he experienced an off childhood. He said he found the values of books as a coping mechanism. In 1916, at Hughes’s 8th-grade graduation, he was elected class poet, where he later felt that he was a victim of a stereotype. He noted that there were only two Negroes in his class and his English teacher was always stressing about the importance of rhythm in poetry.
That’s when he felt that he wouldn’t let his classmates down, and has been writing poetry ever since. Soon after, his mother and stepfather settled in Cleveland Ohio where he began high school. While attending school, Hughe’s teacher, first introduced him to famous poet writers such as Carl Sandburg and Walt Whitman, which later became a significant influence upon his career. His high school classmates, (who were mostly white), referred him as a handsome Indian-looking youth, who was remembered by his natural abilities and respective behavior. Hughes was also an athletic individual who won athletic letters in track and was held office with medals and awards. After he had graduated from high school, Hughes decided to travel to Mexico to be with his father so that he could pay for his college tuition. His father James N. Hughes, had left the United States in order to escape and get away from racism. His father disliked black people because of the racism he encountered. When Hughes arrived in Mexico, but his father would constantly discourage him for his poetry, he wanted him to be an engineer rather being a writer. Hughes’s poetry was beginning to show in the Brownies Book, which was a publication written for children edited by W.E.B Dubois. Hughes started to work on more ambiguous material for adult readers. His poem, A Negro Speaks of River,” marked one of the main developments on his career, which later then appeared in the Crisis magazine in 1921. Hughes later moved back to America and attended Columbia University in New York City.
Life in the nation’s capital was filled with racial tensions, which made Hughes feel discontent about his decision staying there, however, he fell in love with a neighborhood called Harlem in just east of New York City. He felt that that’s where he belonged the most. The people there enjoyed his work and his poetry. In 1923, he signed up to work on a large ship, so that he could travel and see the world. On his first voyage, he visited the west side of Africa where he stayed for a while. On his second voyage, he visited Spain. In 1924 he spent six months in Paris, France, and felt happy and put together. He felt that France wasn’t as racist and discriminatory like America was towards the blacks. His racial rhythmic like poetry sparked up his coming of success. He later started to appear on many African American publications. He also appeared on Vanity Fair Magazine, which was relatively popular among middle, and upper-class woman. In 1924, Hughes went back to live with his mother in Washington, D.C. He hoped to earn enough money to return to back to college. Hughes then landed in a job where he was a personal assistant for a scholar that worked at the Association For The Study Of African American Life and History. He later realized that he was into more millennial jobs and preferred to focus more on his poetry as its the best thing for him. He got a job as a busboy, which paid very little money.
One day as he was cleaning down tables, he spotted a poet writer named Vachel Lindsay, who is one of his favorite poet writers dining alone. Hughes was determined to get his work out there so he slipped a stack of his own poetry on to his table. Lindsey read his work and was amazed and kept him in touch with famous editors at a publishing house called Alfred A. Knopf. That was when Hughes knew he was gonna make it. He was able to write many poems. His poem called “The Weary Blues” won first prize in a literacy competition that was sponsored by a magazine published by the National Urban League. In 1926, that was when his professional life sped off. He was apart of a book published by Knopf which was a collection of poetries. He initiated a magazine titled Fire!! A Quarterly Devoted To The Negro, which was an outlet that talked about emerging the works of black writers. Hughes also published an essay called The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain, which talked about his outline on the arts of philosophy and the problems that are among black artists. After the making of his second publication called Fine Clothes to the Jew, many Black critics didn’t approve of his work because of how much Hughes focused on the negative aspects of Black culture.
Hughes later responded with a quote from the essay The Negro Artist, “We 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.  If colored people are pleased we are glad. If they are not, their displeasure doesn’t matter either. We build our temples for tomorrow, strong as we know how, and we stand on top of the mountain, free within ourselves. In 1929, he graduated and received a bachelors from Lincoln University. Upon the following years, he published many poems in which he talked about the hardships and risks Blacks had taken. In 1932, he joined the Soviet Union with a group of African American Artists, in order to make a film about the treatment of black people throughout the United States. Although the film was never made, being there drew Hughes into the Communist party. He felt that their racial equality was more liberal than American Politics. Throughout his sophisticated life, Hughes’s creative aspects influenced him into the very many genres that his work provided him with.
In 1934, he published a short story collection called The Ways of White Folks which talked about the bitter reflections about the race relations that took place within society. Hughes traveled back to Spain to write about the Civil War as a journalist for the Baltimore Afro American newspaper. He traveled with another journalist named Zora Neale Hurston, in which they both wrote a play called The Mulatto which was a play that talked the cause and issues of racial identities. Hughes also founded three theatres, which were located in Harlem New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Most of Hughes’s plays were commercially successful, which later became an outlet for many other Black editors. During World War 2, Hughes’s politics had grown. He published a memoir called, The Big Sea in which he confessed his feelings towards his poetry. He also started to write a column for the Chicago Defender newspaper in which he created a fictional character that would talk about the racial issues and the observations in life that he would encounter. These columns eventually made their own 5 separate books. Hughes later published the book Montage of a Dream Deferred in 1951, which was remembered for its powerful imagery and language.
In 1954, the book, Simple Takes a Wife, gained an award for the outstanding views on the racial issues among Black people. Over the next few decades, Hughes continued on with his work, doing the variety of projects that he had to get done in order to make improvements among the Black community. On December 30th, 1960, Hughes was presented with the Springarn Medal for achievement by an American. On May 22, 1967, Langston Hughes passed away because of abdominal surgery which leads to prostate cancer in New York City. His legacy still lives on for fighting for black rights through his works of poetry.
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