A Biography of Langston Hughes a Major Icon During the Harlem Renaissance

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The early 1900’s marked the beginning of movement that involved the relocation of more than 6 million African Americans from the rural South to cities in the North; this search for a better life was called the Great Migrations Harsh segregation laws and scarce economic opportunities drove many blacks up north, where they were able to take advantage of the increase in need for industrial workers that arose due to the First World Wart During this time, many southerners settled in a place called Harlem where African Americans were able to build a new foundation for themselves, giving them the courage and strength to address the social, political, and economic challenges they were forced to face. This sparked a new era in which people expressed themselves in ways such as music (jazz, blues), poetry, and newspaper articles; this was the beginning of the Harlem Renaissance.

The Harlem Renaissance gave African Americans a chance to find their voices, confront their issues, and work towards creating the life they felt they deserved with the guidance of the people around them. One of the most influential artists at the time was a man named Langston Hughes, who used his work to speak about the issues he was facing in life and how he planned to achieve equality for all.  Born February 1, 1902 in Joplin, Missouri, Langston Hughes was a major icon during the Harlem Renaissance due to his poetry, in which he addressed the issues that most people were scared to even talk about. Hughes enrolled in Columbia University in 1921, only to drop out a year later to go to Washington, DC where he met a poet named Vachel Lindsay. After reading some of Hughes’s work, Lindsey was thoroughly impressed and decided to use his connections to bring his work to a larger audience, helping him to spread awareness on the issues he wrote about.

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At age 28 (1940), Hughes began contributing a column to the Chicago Defender for which he created a character named Jesse B, Semple, better known as Simpler Simple was a black “everyman” which Hughes used to further explore urban, working-class black themes, and address racial issues Hughes‘s character also made an appearance in a book that was later written by Hughes called The Best Of Simple, in which he talks about racial issues and how hard it is for an African American to make it in this country Hughes had a strong passion for helping those around him and he used his work to guide others and set a good example of how to achieve justice and equality in a peaceful way.  For over 90 years, people have admired the work of Langston Hughes clue to the meanings his words hold and the feeling of strength that is achieved from reading each line.

One of his most well known works is called Mother to Sort, which was written in 1922 during the beginning of the Harlem Renaissance. This poem is narrated by a mother speaking to her son and giving him advice on how to get through life based on the experiences she has had throughout her own life. The poem starts of by saying, “Well, son, I’ll tell you, Life for me ain’t been no crystal stairr” The crystal stair is used as a metaphor throughout the poem to show how her life has been full of imperfections and struggles, and that it hasn’t been the fabulous life that people dream of Building up this metaphor throughout the poem, it works to hint at the major issue being addressed, which deals with the Cosmological Issue (Four Principles of Kemet) of racial barriers and the obstacles that one faces in life due to the color of their skin.

The next section of the poem addresses the intersection between beauty and terror: “It’s had tacks in it, And splinters, And boards torn up, And places with no carpet on the floor— Bare. But all the time I’se been a-climbin’ on, And reachin’ landin’s, And turnin’ corners” The tacks, splinters and torn up boards refer to the hardships one must get over before they are able to reach the top of the stairs, their ultimate goal/destination, They are all things that can hurt you and set you back in yourjourney, just as many situations in life will but you should use them as a way to make you stronger for what is ahead. Having carpet on a concrete floor provides padding incase someone falls but in this case, the mother had nothing to fall back on, there was no padding when times got rough for her but she kept going. She turned new corners and tried new things that she didn‘t know if she would succeed at, but she took any possible chance she could in order to make better life for herself; she never gave up.

This intersection of beauty and terror shows that sometimes you have to go through the pain in order to get the gain; without getting over the tacks, splinters, and torn up boards, there is no way a person can get to the top of the stairs. The poem ends with a stanza that refers to one of the Four Pillars of Life, Motion, and the idea that if you‘re not moving, you’re not helping. “So, boy, don’t you turn back Don’t you set down on the steps ‘Cause you finds it’s kinder hard. Don‘t you fall now— For l’se still goin‘, honey, I’se still climbin’, And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.” In order to achieve success and see a change, you can’t give up just because things get hard and don’t go the way you would like them to. The mother makes it clear that even as an adult, her life has not gotten any easier; she is still fighting for a change and she wants her son to do the same with his life.

This stanza reminded me of a quote from Mahatma Gandhi in which he says, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world“ Success and change will only come if you work for what you want and learn how to overcome the obstacles life throws at you, taking them to your advantage and using them as a learning tooli The poem started off in a sad and helpless tone but progressed itself into a strong and determined voice by the end, giving the reader a sense of faith, hope, and determination; just like the mother wanted her child to feel from her advice. As seen in Mother To Son, many of Langston Hughes’s poems sound as though he is giving advice or talking to someone specific and not just a general audience, creating the feeling that you as the reader are important to him He also uses extremely simple words that are easy to understand but also sound powerful at the same time and the same goes for his use of short lines. The combination of simple words and short lines creates a larger meaning and makes the reader think about more than just what is on the surface.

The poem As I Grow Older, which talks about breaking through the wall that is standing in between him and his dreams, is a great example of his writing style. A majority of the lines in the poem consist of only one or two words which add emphasis on the point he is trying to prove, giving the character a sense of strength and ability to overcome this obstacle Hughes was also known for addressing issues that most other artists at the time were scared to touch upon, such as race, the struggles of being an African American in this country, and the inequality they were forced to live with (Cosmological Issue) The poem Children’s Rhymes compares the life of the whites to the blacks and how the ideas of liberty and justice for all only applied to the whites.

He talks about how he knows that he can’t be president and how what doesn’t bug the white kids, bugs him; showing that African American‘s do not have same opportunities as the whites and that it’s not as easy for them to make a life for themselves. While not everyone may be dealing with same issues in their own lives, Hughes‘s writing style creates a sense of hope and faith that can help someone get through any problem that they may be facing The tone of his work is very calming and it lets the reader know that he is passionate about the issue, but not angry; he wants to getjustice and equality in a peaceful wayt Through his work, he shows courage and determination (Staying Connected, Capacity for Compassion) and makes it known that he will not let anything break him down Focusing on the dark side of the problem first, and then creating light by talking about how the problem will be overcome creates imagery as seen in the poem.

The poem starts off explaining how an African American was forced to eat in the kitchen when guests were over because he was not “one of them.“ As each line progresses, the character gains strength and power and says that the next time there are people over, he will be sitting at the same table as them and they will see just how beautiful he really is and be ashamed because, after all, he is also American, Passing away on May 22, 1967 due to prostate cancer, Langston Hughes paved the road for change through his words His work gave people the determination and strength to overcome their hardships and create a better life for themselves, the one they had always dreamed of. In 1981, Hughes‘s home on East 127m Street in Harlem received New York City Landmark Status as a way honoring his work and the change he brought to African Americans everywhere.

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A Biography of Langston Hughes a Major Icon During the Harlem Renaissance. (2023, May 10). Retrieved from


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