Langston Hughes

     Langston Hughes was born in Joplin, Missouri, on February 1, 1902. He was the descendant of John Mercer Langston, who was the first black American to be elected to public office in 1855. Hughes began writing poetry in high school and his first published poem, The Negro Speaks of Rivers, became his most famous. Although he attended college to study engineering at the insistence of his father, he soon after dropped out to devote himself to writing.

      Hughes' best essays appeared in The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain. He spoke of black writers and poets who wanted to lose their racial identity and become known as good writers and poets, but not as good black writers and poets. To Hughes, this meant that the black writer secretly wanted to emulate white writers. He admonished the young black writers to write "without fear or shame" and not to let white or black people influence them.

      In 1924, Hughes was one of the leading black influences of the Harlem Renaissance. Many of Hughes' works were published during this time. His poetry was influenced by the jazz and blues music that he heard in the clubs that he frequented.

      His most famous character, Jess B. Simple, was based on a conversation he had with a man he knew in Harlem. This character became the voice of reason in a series of books Hughes wrote beginning in 1950.

      Hughes died of cancer on May 22, 1967.

While in Europe, Hughes was stranded with no money to return to the United States. After being denied a job on a ship headed for America because of his race, Hughes wrote I, Too, Sing America.

I, Too, Sing America

I, too, sing America.
I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.
I'll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody'll dare
Say to me,
"Eat in the kitchen,"
They'll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed –
I, too, am America.



Photo courtesy Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division,
Carl Van Vechten Collection