Friday, 7 February 2014

Langston Hughs Part 2

The Harlem Renaissance was a phase of a larger New Negro movement that had emerged in the early 20th century and in some ways ushered in the Civil Rights Movement of the late 1940s and early 1950s. It was the hay day of Black culture; where people from all over America came to celebration African American culture.

 The social foundations of this movement included the Great Migration of African Americans, including my grandmother and her children from rural to urban spaces and from the South to the North; dramatically rising levels of literacy; the creation of national organizations dedicated to pressing African American civil rights, “uplifting” the race, and opening socioeconomic opportunities; and developing race pride, including pan-African sensibilities and programs. Black exiles and expatriates from the Caribbean and Africa crossed paths in metropolis such as New York City and Paris, after World War I and had an invigorating influence on each other that gave the broader “Negro renaissance” (as it was then known) a profoundly important international cast, including black artists, writers, plays, books and music.
Amoung these artist, was the poet-writer, Langston Hughs.
When one thinks of the Harlem Renaissance, Langston Hugh's name is usually amoung the first to come up.
As stated in part one on this post about Hughs, Langston was a proud black man, proud of his heritage and of his people, a pride reflected in his work. He identified unashamedly black at a time when blackness was démodé. He stressed the theme of "black is beautiful" as he explored the black human condition in a variety of depths.  His main concern was the uplift of his people, whose strengths, resiliency, courage, and humor he wanted to record as part of the general American experience.
His poetry and fiction portrayed the lives of the working-class blacks in America, lives he portrayed as full of struggle, joy, laughter, and music. Permeating his work is pride in the African-American identity and its diverse culture.
"My seeking has been to explain and illuminate the Negro condition in America and obliquely that of all human kind," Hughes is quoted as saying. He confronted racial stereotypes, protested social conditions, and expanded African America’s image of itself; a “people’s poet” who sought to reeducate both audience and artist by lifting the theory of the black aesthetic into reality. He wrote novels, short stories, plays, poetry, operas, essays, and works for children. With the encouragement of his best friend and writer, Arna  Bontemps  and patron and friend, Carl Van Vechten, he wrote two volumes of autobiography, The Big Sea and I Wonder as I Wander, as well as translating several works of literature into English.
Hughes wanted young black writers to be objective about their race, but not to scorn it, be ashamed or flee from it. He understood the main points of the  Black Power movement of the 1960s, but believed that some of the younger black writers who supported it were too angry in their work, while many young black writers thought him a sell out. Hughes's work Panther and the Lash, posthumously published in 1967, was intended to show solidarity with these writers, but with more skill and devoid of the most virulent anger and racial chauvinism some showed toward whites.
Amoung his discoveries was author Alice Walker, who hails Mr. Hughs as one of her heroes.
Author Loften Mitchell observed of Hughes:
"Langston set a tone, a standard of brotherhood and friendship and cooperation, for all of us to follow. You never got from him, 'I am the Negro writer,' but only 'I am a Negro writer.' He never stopped thinking about the rest of us."
The month before my 10th birthday, May 22, 1967, Mr. Hughs died from complications after abdominal surgery, related to prostate cancer at the age of 65.
 His ashes are interred beneath a floor medallion in the middle of the foyer in the Arthur Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harem. It is the entrance to an auditorium named for him. The design on the floor is an African cosmogram titled Rivers. The title is taken from his poem, "The Negro Speaks of Rivers." Within the center of the cosmogram is the line: "My soul has grown deep like the rivers".
A river that continues to flow and enrich the lives of all Americans today.

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