Thursday, 6 February 2014

Black History Month: Langston Hughs Part One

Today I share about one of my favorite poets, Langdon Hughs.

James Mercer Langston Hughs, better known to his readers as Langston Hughs was born on February 1, 1902. His family history alone is a American story.
Like most African Americans, Langston Hughs came from a multicultural background made up of slaves and slave owners. Both of his paternal great-grandmothers were African-Americans and both his paternal great-grandfathers Kentucky were white slave owners.
 One of his great-grandfathers was Sam Clay, a Scottish-American whiskey distiller of Henry County and supposedly a relative of Henry Clay. The other was Silas Cushenberry, a Jewish-American slave trader of Clark County. Hughes's maternal grandmother Mary Patterson was of African-American, French, English and Native American descent. One of the first women to attend Oberlin College, Mary Patterson  first married Lewis Sheridan Leary, also of mixed race. Lewis Sheridan Leary subsequently joined John Brown's Raid on Harper's Ferry in 1959 and died from his wounds.
Ten years later, the Widow Leary, married again, this time into the elite, politically active Langston family. Her second husband was Charles Henry Langston,  of African-American, Native American, and Euro-American ancestry. He and his younger brother John Mercer Langston worked for the Abolitionist cause and helped lead the Ohio Anti-Slavery Society in 1858. Charles Langston later moved to Kansas, where he was active as an educator and activist for voting and rights for African Americans. Charles and Mary's daughter Caroline was the mother of Langston Hughes.
Langston Hughes was born in Joplin, Missouri, the second child of school teacher Carrie (Caroline) Mercer Langston and James Nathaniel Hughes. He grew up in a series of Midwestern small towns. Hughes was a young child, when his father left the family and later divorced Carrie, going to first Cuba and then Mexico, seeking to escape the enduring racism in the Untied States.
After the divorce of his parents, while his mother traveled seeking employment, young Langston was raised mainly by his maternal grandmother, Mary Patterson Langston, in Lawrence, Kansas. Through the black American oral tradition and drawing from the activist experiences of her generation, Mary Langston instilled in her grandson a lasting sense of racial pride as well as a love of words and story telling. A great story teller herself, it was Mary who transferred to him her love of literature and the importance of an education. His childhood in Lawrence, Kansas was a lonely one, save his friends, his books.
After the death of his grandmother, he went to live with family friends, James and Mary Reed, for two years. In Big Sea he wrote, "I was unhappy for a long time, and very lonesome, living with my grandmother. Then it was that books began to happen to me, and I began to believe in nothing but books and the wonderful world in books — where if people suffered, they suffered in beautiful language, not in monosyllables, as we did in Kansas."
Having remarried, Langston went to live again with his mother Carrie in Lincoln, Illinois, eventually the family settled in Cleveland, Ohio where he attended high school. 
While attending grammer school in Lincoln, Hughes was elected class poet. Hughes stated that in retrospect he thought it was because of the stereotype that African Americans have rhythm.
"I was a victim of a stereotype. There were only two of us Negro kids in the whole class and our English teacher was always stressing the importance of rhythm in poetry. Well, everyone knows, except us, that all Negroes have rhythm, so they elected me as class poet."
During high school in Cleveland, he wrote for the school newspaper, edited the yearbook, and began to write his first short stories, poetry, and dramatic plays. His first piece of jazz poetry, "When Sue Wears Red", was written while he was in high school.
The relationship between Hugh and his father was poor. He never understood why the elder left his family, his country, even had a dislike of his own people.
Langston Hughs once said about his father:"I had been thinking about my father and his strange dislike of his own people. I didn't understand it, because I was a Negro, and I liked Negroes very much." He did live with his father in Mexico for a brief period in 1919. His father was willing to  he was willing to provide financial assistance to his son but did not support his desire to be a writer. The two men came to a compromise; Hughes was to study engineering, and as long as he would attend Columbia. His tuition provided; Hughes left his father after more than a year. While at Columbia in 1921, Hughes managed to maintain a B+ grade average. He left in 1922 because of racial prejudice, and his interests revolved more around the neighborhood of Harlem than his studies, though he continued writing poetry.
More about Langston Hughs in the next entry.
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