Langston Hughes Synopsis

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Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes

James Langston Hughes was born on February 1, 1902, in Joplin, Missouri. He was named
after his father, but it was later shortened to just Langston Hughes. He was the only
child of James and Carrie Hughes. His family was never happy so he was a lonely youth. The
reasons for their unhappiness had as much to do with the color of their skin and the
society into which they had been born as they did with their opposite personalities. They
were victims of white attitudes and discriminatory laws. They moved to Oklahoma in the
late 1890s. Although the institution of slavery was officially abolished racial
discrimination and segregation persisted.

Langston Hughes parents then separated. Since his mother moved from city to city in search
of work he lived in Lawrence, Kansas, with his grandmother named Mary Hughes. She fiercely
opposed to racial discrimination. While growing up, Langston also stayed with friends of
the family, James and Mary Reed. Living with his grandmother and the Reeds in all-white
neighborhoods, he felt even more isolated.

When Langston was ready to start school in 1908, his mother was told that because her son
was black, he could not attend a nearby, mostly white school in Topeka, Kansas. Carrie,
his mother, fought with the school over their decision. She won her fight and Langston was
finally admitted to the school. He dealed with his loneliness by writing poetry. After
Langston's grandmother died in 1915, he went to live with his mother, her second husband,
Homer Clark, and Clark's two-year-old son, Gwyn. They went from Lawrence, Kansas to Kansas
City, Missouri to Lincoln, Illinois. They moved to Cleveland, Ohio in 1916. Clark moved to
Chicago, Illinois. Langston's mother followed him and Langston was left alone in
Cleveland.

He devoted himself to his class work and other interests. He was on the editorial staff,
on the student council, one the track team, an officer in the drill corps, and acted in
school plays. When Langston Hughes attended Central High, the student body was very
ethnically diverse. Langston's Jewish friends were the ones who first opened his eyes to
the ideals of socialism. Socialism is the doctrine that all property in a society is
public property. Claude McKay, a black writer whose articles and poems appeared in the
Liberator, became a favorite of Langston's.

Langston started to use Negro (African-American) dialects as well as the words and rhythms
of the music he heard while attending church and Sunday school with Mrs. Reed. He also
used street talk and the blues. Hughes poetry began to reflect images of black
experiences; also captured in Romare Bearden's After Church. He wrote his famous poem When
Sue Wears Red, to one of his high school sweet hearts. A lot of his early poems focused on
how it felt to be black. When Hughes moved to Harlem in 1921, the district was in the
process of becoming heavily populated by blacks.

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