This Day in Black History: Poet Langston Hughes was born

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HOUSTON — This day in black history, Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes was born.

James Mercer Langston Hughes was born on Feb. 1, 1902 in Joplin, Missouri to school teacher Caroline Langston and James Hughes.

Hughes attended Columbia University from 1921-1922, but graduated from a historically black university, Lincoln University, in 1929.

In 1921, at the age of 19, Hughes’ signature poem “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” was published in The Crisis, an official magazine of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

The Negro Speaks of Rivers

By: Langston Hughes

I’ve known rivers:

I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.

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.

I’ve known rivers:

Ancient, dusky rivers.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

In 1930, Hughes’ first novel, Not Without Laughter, a semi-autobiographical about him growing up in Lawrence, Kansas, won the Harmon Gold Medal for literature. In 1941, Hughes founded The Skyloft Players, which nurtured black playwrights and offered theater “from the black perspective”, in Chicago, Illinois.

Hughes chose to pass down his knowledge of literature to students at Atlanta University in 1947 and University of Chicago Laboratory Schools in 1949.

Before his death in 1967, Hughes received numerous prestigious awards for his contribution towards poetry and leadership:

1926: Witter Bynner Undergraduate Poetry Prize

1935: Guggenheim  Fellowship award

1941: Rosenwald Fund award

1960: Sprinarn Medal award from NAACP

1963: Honoary Doctorate from Howard University

On May 22, 1967, Hughes died at the age of 65 from complications after abdominal surgery related to prostate cancer. His ashes are interred beneath a floor medallion in the middle of the foyer in the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem.

 The Weary Blues

By: Langston Hughes

Droning a drowsy syncopated tune,

Rocking back and forth to a mellow croon,

I heard a Negro play.

Down on Lenox Avenue the other night

By the pale dull pallor of an old gas light

He did a lazy sway . . .

He did a lazy sway . . .

To the tune o’ those Weary Blues.

With his ebony hands on each ivory key

He made that poor piano moan with melody.

O Blues!

Swaying to and fro on his rickety stool

He played that sad raggy tune like a musical fool.

Sweet Blues!

Coming from a black man’s soul.

O Blues!

In a deep song voice with a melancholy tone

I heard that Negro sing, that old piano moan—

“Ain’t got nobody in all this world,

Ain’t got nobody but ma self.

I’s gwine to quit ma frownin’

And put ma troubles on the shelf.”

Thump, thump, thump, went his foot on the floor.

He played a few chords then he sang some more—

“I got the Weary Blues

And I can’t be satisfied.

Got the Weary Blues

And can’t be satisfied—

I ain’t happy no mo’

And I wish that I had died.”

And far into the night he crooned that tune.

The stars went out and so did the moon.

The singer stopped playing and went to bed

While the Weary Blues echoed through his head.

He slept like a rock or a man that’s dead.

Want more Black History? Check out video highlighting a piece of Houston’s history makers.

   
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