How Langston Hughes exemplifies the African American tradition

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Hughes has been an icon in African-American tradition through his works of both poetry and literature. His works have brought about more ease in the analysis and interpretation of African-American tradition literature. The rationale of Hughes is based on history and the gradual transformations undergone by this society to current state.

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The history of African American tradition goes a long way back. It also has a complex web of gradual changes and transformations in behavior and objectives of the society. This paper looks critically at the various examples, paradigms and the history of the African American tradition with an aim to establish a positive and negative projections emanating from the changes and the developments.

What is African American Tradition?

This refers to the history and behavior of the African-American society. It is a broad and complex subject about the history and the subsequent traditions and how this history was recorded. The African American tradition is well understood from a Hughes perspective. He has a broader perception about how this history was recorded from various points of views of different people.

 African American tradition brings forth the exact picture of how well we can understand the struggle and history of African Americans. It’s a wide subject about the United States the lists of names of important events, African slaves, and African Americans and then  Africa and how it came to be a subject of influence in modern American. The African American tradition is basically the inter-connectivity between the African culture and its effect and manifestation in the American society. Conclusively, African American tradition is the context of important traditions in America based on African countries traditions such as dance and music and how it connects with African American customs today (Alu, 2008).

Hughes has used the oral expression to exemplify the influence of African American folklore through his works. Through these oral impressions, Hughes is able to connect them to African-American traditions which emanated from the American cultures which include singing and dancing (Tracy, 2001). According to Tracy, Langston Hughes uses artistic elements to bring forth the subject of nativity of African American tradition to Africa. The casual exposure does not always mean meaningful exposure to the perspective of Hughes purge to draw out the exact picture of tradition.

  Hughes maintains the African American tradition through this artistic prowess. The South in African-American culture creates a better understanding about the many connections the South made in and between specific works. Langston Hughes mainstream approach has focused on universal properties associated with ethnic and  racial identities. He has used various contexts and underlying meanings of the tradition and transition as qualitative meaning of being African American. He actually reaches this through an emphasis on the unique cultural and historical experiences of African Americans (Sellers et al 1998).

  However, Hughes has made great efforts in making tradition become relevant through artistic impressions like blues. Empirical research on blues shows that Hughes wished to do his work so as to inspire artistry as an aspect of tradition. According to Tracy, ‘the development of a body of attitudes toward the folk roots of African-American culture rose to importance.’  Tracy connects the context of movement in tradition to the African states through an argument on the essence of movement in music. He dwells on blues which are the key elements of Langston Hughes works and his inference on the African American tradition.

‘The increased interest in folk materials and the atmosphere of an intellectual movement that sought to mine that material for literary purposes, the origin of the blues-in Africa, slaves experiences, work songs, field hollers and religious music are a means of establishing racial and cultural parameters’ (Tracy, 2001)

 Empirical research shows that Hughes wrote different artistic music over the years.

 He used blues structures, themes, imagery, patterns and voices to link his literary work to the productions of the folk, establishing the continuity of the African-American creative mind that he felt was so necessary to foster a racial self awareness and pride. (Tracy, 2001)’

This is a transition for the present state of origin to a shift to nativity. Hughes wanted to go back to what he felt, perceived and believed was the roots. He wanted to give credit to the folk than to the present inspiration and environments of the American culture. We have to agree that, there is an element of patriotism in Hughes. He is conservative and loyal. However, we see an element of rebel traits in his purge. He is not committed to the truces of social peace in the current modern world. Rather, he wants to project the Black as a man who is maligned and not respected. His immense passion to raise racial awareness and racial pride is seen as a step backwards in modern society while his passion to be traditional and raise the pride of the tradition of African Americanism is seen as a great patriotism.

  Hughes was dubbed a great man, but he seemed to strike a raw nerve by exemplifying the same detractive measures in his poetic usurpations. Blacks complained of his giving voice to low lives, just like George Washington and Mark Twain did give opportunities to the low lives to represent the greater part of the society. We have to understand that Hughes wanted to show that he was in touch with the society more than we thought he was. He was giving voice to those maligned. This didn’t auger well with the middle class Blacks who loathed his depictions of these lowlifes and how he gave them voice through his poetry.  Tracy attributes this rebellious aspect of his career to a shift from the American society doctrines to a communist rationale of society. He was ‘searching for unpretentious ‘people’ poetry and moving almost imperceptibly toward an involvement with communism’ (Tracy, 2001).

 The history of African- American tradition is well contextualized and understood through historical happenings like the slaves jumping from slave ships to their deaths, and slaves wearing iron muzzles while working daily jobs, (Boyd 27-28). Based on the context of his poem ‘let America be America again’, Hughes envisioned the dreams of the common folk inscribing their tribulations, identity and gains into the memory of the Americans, both black and white. This exudes the common interest of many writers to marginalize various social castes and cultures as such sounding racial and not patriotic. This pits Hughes as one of the most accomplished and successful poets who rose against poverty and racial issues to distinctively seek after a decent society that is proud and united.

  The tradition of African-Americans is also observed through his approach and repute. I argue that, Hughes wanted to represent the Blacks through a literary approach which more or so worked favorably since he won acclaim and immense respect as a Black voice. Like of his poem below we observe that he is artistic and realistic voice speaking out on issues concerning African American culture

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, 1925


  The African American tradition is well understood from his perspective. He has defined this tradition and amicably drawn out how it has gradually fitted into modernity (Reuben, 2008). Hughes offers an important element in understanding history and struggles of African Americans and how they established a niche among the broad American society. Hughes projections put us in touch with the realities of the southern town dealing with racial prejudice before the Civil Rights Movement and how the African American overcame these prejudices. Hughes brings the context of the Beginnings of African American Literature through very distinctive writing and poetry. He introduces the prejudices of slavery and African American. Hughes is able to make us be in touch with history and learn implicitly how history is a key element of African American social.


Alu Jane, 2008, African American History in the Language Arts Curriculum

 Hughes, Langston. The Dream Keeper and Other Poems.  New York:

Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1970. A collection of poetry by Langston Hughes.

Hughes, Langston.  Selected Poems of Langston Hughes.  New York: Alfred A.Knopf, Inc.  1954. A collection of poetry by Langston Hughes.

Mitchell, Angelyn (1994). Within the Circle: An anthology of African American literary criticism from the Harlem reneissance to the present.Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press.

Sellers, Robert M (1998). Multidimensional Model of Racial Identity: A Reconceptualization of African American Racial Identity. personality and Social Psychology Review, Vol. 2, No. 1, Retrieved 8th October 2008, from

Smith, Arthur Edgar (9 July 2007). Langston Hughes Life and Works Celebrating Black Dignity. ChickenBones: A Journal for Literary ; Artistic African-American Themes, Retrieved 8th October 2008, from

Papa. M, Gerber.A, Mohamed.A (2008). African American Culture through Oral Tradition. Retrieved October 8, 2008, from The George Washington University Web site:

Reuben, Paul P. “Chapter 9: Langston Hughes ” PAL: Perspectives in American Literature-

Tracy C Steven, (2001) Langston Hughes and the Blues, University of Illinois press


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