(February 1, 1902 - May 22, 1967)
Born in Joplin, Missouri, James Langston Hughes was a member of an abolitionist family. He was the great-great-grandson of Charles Henry Langston, brother of John Mercer Langston, who was the first Black American to be elected to public office, in 1855. Hughes went to Central High School in Cleveland, Ohio, but began writing poetry in the eighth grade, and was selected as Class Poet. His father didn't think he would be able to make a living at writing, and encouraged him to pursue a more practical career. He paid his son's tuition to Columbia University on the grounds he study engineering. After a short time, Langston dropped out of the program with a B+ average; he continued writing poetry. His first published poem was also one of his most famous, "The Negro Speaks of Rivers", and it appeared in Brownie's Book. Later, his poems, short plays, essays and short stories appeared in the NAACP publication Crisis Magazine and in Opportunity Magazine and other publications.
One of Hughes' finest essays appeared In the Nation in 1926, entitled "The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain". It spoke of Black writers and poets, "who would surrender racial pride in the name of a false integration," where a talented Black writer would prefer to be considered a poet, not a Black poet, which to Hughes meant he subconsciously wanted to write like a white poet." Hughes argued, "no great poet has ever been afraid of being himself." He wrote in this essay, "We younger Negro artists now intend to express our individual dark-skinned selves without fear or shame. If white people are pleased we are glad. If they aren't, 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, as strong as we know how and we stand on the top of the mountain, free within ourselves."
In 1923, Hughes traveled aboard on a freighter to the Senegal, Nigeria, the Cameroons, Belgium Congo, Angola, and Guinea in Africa, and later to Italy and France, Russia and Spain. One of his favorite past times whether aboard or in Washington, D.C. or Harlem, New York was sitting in the clubs listening to blues, jazz and writing poetry. Through these experiences a new rhythm emerged in his writing, and a series of poems such as "The Weary Blues" were made. He returned to Harlem, in 1924, the time known as the Harlem...