James Mercer Langston Hughes was born in Joplin, Missouri on February 1, 1902. Langston Hughes is referred to as the Poet Laureate of the Harlem Renaissance. He is known for his insightful portrayals of black life in America from the 1920s through the 1960s. Unlike other notable black poets of the time, Langston Hughes refused to differentiate between his personal middle-class experience and the common experience of black America. He wanted to tell the true stories of Black America in ways that reflected the actual culture, including both the struggle and the triumph.
Hughes wrote what would be considered a manifesto, “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain”, published in The Nation in 1926:
“The younger Negro artists who create now intend to express our individual dark-skinned selves without fear or shame. If white people are pleased we are glad. If they are not, it doesn’t matter. We know we are beautiful. And ugly, too. The tom-tom cries, and the tom-tom laughs. If colored people are pleased we are glad. If they are not, their displeasure doesn’t matter either. We build our temples for tomorrow, strong as we know how, and we stand on top of the mountain free within ourselves.”
He confronted racial stereotypes and protested social conditions, stressed racial consciousness and cultural nationalism devoid of self-hate. Hughes was one of the few prominent writers of his time to champion racial consciousness as a source of inspiration for black artists.
Langston Hughes died on May 22, 1967, in New York City. In his memory, his residence at 20 East 127th Street in Harlem has been given landmark status been renamed Langston Hughes Place.
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