Black History Icon: Langston Hughes

     

Langston Hughes, 1943. Photo by Gordon Parks

Born: February 1, 1902, Joplin, MO

Died: May 22, 1967, New York City, NY
Education: Lincoln University (1926–1929), Columbia University (1921–1922)
 

James Mercer Langston Hughes (February 1, 1902 – May 22, 1967) was an American poet, social activist, novelist, playwright, and columnist. He was one of the earliest innovators of the then-new literary art form called jazz poetry. Hughes is best known as a leader of the Harlem Renaissance. He famously wrote about the period that “the negro was in vogue” which was later paraphrased as “when Harlem was in vogue”.[1]

Hughes’s ashes are interred under a cosmogram medallion in the foyer of the Arthur Schomburg Center in Harlem

Honors and awards

Death

On May 22, 1967, Hughes died from complications after abdominal surgery, related to prostate cancer, at the age of 65. His ashes are interred beneath a floor medallion in the middle of the foyer in the Arthur Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem. It is the entrance to an auditorium named for him.[35] The design on the floor is an African cosmogram titled Rivers. The title is taken from his poem, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers“. Within the center of the cosmogram is the line: “My soul has grown deep like the rivers”.

Career

 My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I danced in the Nile when I was old
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln
        went down to New Orleans, and I’ve seen its muddy
        bosom turn all golden in the sunset.

from “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” (1920),
in The Weary Blues (1926) [36]

First published in The Crisis in 1921, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers”, which became Hughes’s signature poem, was collected in his first book of poetry The Weary Blues (1926).[37] Hughes’s first and last published poems appeared in The Crisis; more of his poems were published in The Crisis than in any other journal.[38] Hughes’s life and work were enormously influential during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s, alongside those of his contemporaries, Zora Neale Hurston, Wallace Thurman, Claude McKay, Countee Cullen, Richard Bruce Nugent, and Aaron Douglas. Except for McKay, they worked together also to create the short-lived magazine Fire!! Devoted to Younger Negro Artists.

Hughes and his contemporaries had different goals and aspirations than the black middle class. They criticized the men known as the midwives of the Harlem Renaissance: W. E. B. Du Bois, Jessie Redmon Fauset, and Alain LeRoy Locke, as being overly accommodating and assimilating eurocentric values and culture to achieve social equality.

Hughes and his fellows tried to depict the “low-life” in their art, that is, the real lives of blacks in the lower social-economic strata. They criticized the divisions and prejudices based on skin color within the black community.[39] Hughes wrote what would be considered their manifesto, “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain” published in The Nation in 1926.

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Posted on February 19, 2014, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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