Langston Hughes (February 1, 1902 – May 22, 1967)

There’s a lot to learn about Langston Hughes. He was a passionate writer, poet, and one of the key examples of how the African American community was more than capable of meeting and exceeding the standards that were set for them during the Jim Crow Era. Here, is his story…

Childhood Into Early Adulthood
A young Langston Hughes in 1902

Langston Hughes was born in Joplin, Missouri to mixed race parents . He was of African American, European American, and Native American descent. Hughes’ mother was a schoolteacher and poet, while his father was a storekeeper, who aspired to be a lawyer, but was denied to take the bar exam. Langston Hughes grew up in the ghetto and had an unhappy childhood. His father, James Nathaniel Hughes, divorced his mother Caroline Mercer Langston, and moved to Cuba and then Mexico shortly after. His father’s excuse for the divorce was to escape the racism within the United States, which during that time affected many people, primarily those of African descents.

Once his father left the picture, his mother had to travel to find work, so Langston was left to stay with his grandmother Mary Patterson Langston in Kansas. She raised him to be proud of who he was and to have great integrity. After his grandmother died, he moved back in with his mother who remarried. The new family eventually moved to Cleveland, Ohio where Langston went on to go to high school.
When Langston was in grammar school, his class elected him the class poet, which he found kind of racist because he thought it fit the stereotype that African Americans had rhythm. When Langston Hughes attended high school, he was an active student, edited the yearbook, and wrote for the school paper, and he even penned his first short stories, and dramatic plays during his high school years.
He didn't begin his first works of poetry until after he graduated high school.

Hughes did not have the best relationship with his father. They bumped heads constantly, mostly because Langston was passionate about writing, while his father believed such a career would lead him nowhere. He lived with his father in Mexico for a while and since their relationship was strained, it led Langston Hughes to attempt suicide multiple times. When he graduated high school, Langston moved back in with his father, hoping he could get some money from him so he could attend Columbia University. His father didn’t like Langston’s choices for college. He also didn’t support his passion for writing, and urged Langston to take up a “more practical” career choice specifically engineering. Once they came to an agreement, his father agreed to help pay his tuition and Langston Hughes was able to go to Columbia University. But soon after, he left college due to the racism within the school. He began to work odd jobs and traveled to Africa and Europe as a seaman.

Langston Hughes at his typewriter

In 1924, he moved to Washington, DC, and began his first piece of work, entitled "The Weary Blues". After "The Weary Blues" was published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1926, Langston continued his education at Lincoln University, and graduated three years later. In 1930, Hughes' novel, "Not Without Laughter" won the Harmon Gold Metal for Literature. The majority of his work was centered around the everyday struggles as well as the triumphs of the African American community during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s as well as the Jim Crow Era.
Some of his work that really talks about the struggle and triumphs African Americans endured during that time period include, Not Without Laughter, The Ways of White Folks, My People, “I, Too, Sing America”, and A New Song. Each piece features some type of interaction that whites and blacks experienced during that time weather it be an African American talking about their struggles in society or even a person speaking up about keeping hope that one day everything will get better for blacks.

He wrote novels, short stories and plays, as well as poetry. His primary influences were jazz (he loved its expressiveness), Paul Lawrence Dunbar, Carl Sandburg, and Walt Whitman. One defining feature of Hughes' work that separates him from the other artists during that period was his refusal to separate his own experiences from that of the African Americans during that time. He believed that he too, should be included in that quota of the oppressed people who were giving restricions and were discriminated against. Here is an example of his most famous work:

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.


Langston Hughes died on May 22, 1967 from serious complications after having prostate cancer abdominal related surgery. He died at the age of 65. His ashes are under a floor medallion in the middle foyer that leads to the auditorium named after him in the Arthur Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem. The design on the floor covering is titled Rivers, which was taken from his poem “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” and it also features a quote from Langston Hughes reading, “My soul has grown deep like the rivers.”

Here is a video featuring Langston Hughes poem "The Weary Blues"

Here Is The Main Link To The Video On Youtube

To view more of Langston's work and for even MORE information on this prolific artist, feel free to click on our links below! *Note - If you click upon the pictures you'll get there url's/links*

External Links