There are many time periods or movements that have changed the history of America forever. Though several may have come to mind, there is one that drastically changed the outlook on African American rights: the Harlem Renaissance, a time period when a large number of African Americans began to emerge as intelligent writers. This time period and movement was extremely important because it changed the way society viewed African Americans. These writers were able to express their thoughts and feelings through papers and other works of art to show the world that their lives are of value. Of all the writers represented in the Harlem Renaissance, one specific writer stood out as an intelligent and bold man who changed lives and influenced many changes: Langston Hughes.
Langston Hughes was born in 1902 and grew up in Kansas with his grandparents. He later left his grandparents’ home to live with his mother, but his father had moved to Mexico and was not very involved in his life. Many people who knew Hughes or studied his life have said that this parental neglect could have caused him to be more interested in reading and poetry. His years of loneliness and wondering may have given him the desire to learn about various subjects.
Though Langston Hughes first became well-known through his writing in the Harlem Renaissance, he has always been interested in poetry and other types of writing. From a young age, Hughes was passionate about black rights and most often expressed his thoughts through poetry. In his poems, he was sure to talk about racial oppression and the problems that arise from it. Not only did he work on his own poems, but he also wrote for The Chicago Defender. He wrote a column for this company and like always, he included black rights and left-landed black workers. Expressing his thoughts through writing became his priority and through the Harlem Renaissance, he was able to make his voice heard.
There are many different poems he wrote during this time period that showed his opinions and would eventually impact the history of America, including: I, Too, Theme for English B, and Democracy. These poems each had a way of catching the attention of his audience and bolding stating what he believed.
In the poem I, Too, Hughes begins by speaking of a table. Due to the color of his skin, he is not invited to sit at the table when company comes, but has to eat in the kitchen, instead. This occurrence does not cause him to lose hope, because tomorrow, he will be able to sit at the table. He says this statement firmly, showing that he is confident in the riddance of oppression. Not only will he be able to sit at the table, but he says, They’ll see how beautiful I am and be ashamed (Hughes) In this poem, Hughes is telling society that once they realize the beauty and value African Americans bring to the world, they will be ashamed at how they once treated them. This poem makes the reader feel a bit guilty and foreshadows how a large majority of Americans feel about past mistreatment of African Americans.
The second poem by Hughes, Theme for English B, is set in a college classroom. When the instructor gives the class directions to write a paper for homework, he tells them to let the words come out of the page and they will be true. Hughes began to reflect on this statement and asks, I wonder if it’s that simple? (Hughes) He begins his assignment by describing his physical features and interests, and later points out that being colored makes him no different than everyone else. He speaks directly to the instructor, saying, 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. (Hughes) This excerpt shows that though he and the professor have their differences, they are both American and have the opportunity to learn from each other, work together, and simply become acquainted with one another. This was vital information in that time period because oftentimes, white people did not associate themselves with African Americans. Hughes points out to the audience that they are all human – whites and African Americans may have their differences, including the color of their skin, but they are still able to work and make a difference together.
In Democracy, Langston Hughes begins to complain about the treatment African Americans receive. He is not shy, saying, I tire so of hearing people say, Let things take their course. Tomorrow is another day. I do not need my freedom when I’m dead. I cannot live on tomorrow’s bread. (Hughes) He is tired of waiting on the freedom he has always longed for. Through this poem, the reader can tell that he is anxious and ready for a change to be made in the treatment of people his color. As he states at the end of the poem, he wanted freedom just as white people had, because after all, he is a human, just like they are. These bold statements show the reader that he was serious about his beliefs.
Through his poems, Langston Hughes is not afraid to speak boldly about how he believes. It is clear that he has a mission and will not stop working until it is accomplished. Hughes is able to be kind, but a little pushy, to make society see the need in equal rights. He uses many different settings, such as the dinner table and the classroom, to show that this oppression happens everywhere. It brings hardships and does not make sense. Hughes does a good job of convincing the reader why it should not be continued. His persuasive technique is perfect.
Overall, the Harlem Renaissance changed how the world viewed African Americans. They had the opportunity to speak out to show the world their intelligence and who they were. They were able to do this through their different forms of writings and arts. Langston Hughes happened to be a staple in this movement, boldly proclaiming what he believed through his poetry. He was able to impact the history and movements of America by showing people not to be afraid to stand up for what they believe – he believed in black rights and was proud in showing that, leading to a change in the world’s view of African Americans. If it weren’t for Langston Hughes and the others supporting his work during the Harlem Renaissance, it is likely that equal rights would be the same today as it was many years ago – treated with disrespect and unequal viewpoints.
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