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Langston Hughes, Prolific Writer Of Black Pride During The Harlem Renaissance

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During a time where racism was at its height in America through Jim Crow laws in the South, laws that separated blacks from mainstream white society. Where the notion of “separate but equal” was widely accepted in America, blacks were faced with adversity that they had to overcome in a race intolerant society. They were forced to face a system that compromised their freedom and rights. Blacks knew that equal was never equal and separate was definitely separate (George 8-9). Blacks had to fight for their rights because it wasn’t handed to them. Racism manifested itself on many levels and had to be fought on many levels. This gave rise to influential black leaders in the fight for civil rights. Langston Hughes was one of those black leaders who arose during the Harlem Renaissance. He gave his people a voice and encouraged pride and hope through his literary work, to overcome racial discrimination.

Langston Hughes lived during the time of the Harlem Renaissance, an African American cultural movement of the early 1920s and 1930s that was centered in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City. It also came to be known as the New Negro movement, marked the first time that mainstream publishers and critics took African American literature seriously and that African American literature and arts attracted significant attention from the nation at large. Although it was primarily a literary movement, it was closely related to developments in African American music, theater, art, and politics. This was also the time of the “Great Migration”, where more blacks were migrating from the rural South to the urban North, to seek better jobs and lives for their families (George 62). This new identity blacks to gain a new social consciousness and opportunity that was not available in the South. Although the North was a change from the slave history of the South, it wasn’t a significant change to freedom because in the North blacks still faced with segregation and were still at the mercy of a white-dominated society. Hughes lived during this time of black segregation from 1902-1967, though he faced the racism brought himself and his people he still anticipated a brighter future. In what way did Hughes express hope and pride in the black community during the time of segregation? Did Hughes ever think a change would come in America?

Hughes wrote a manifesto called “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain”, which was published in 1926, in the Nation. Here Hughes describes his views for a new direction in black literature and arts. He urges black intellectuals and artists to break away from the standards that the white society set for them. Hughes emphasized the theme that black is beautiful and that we should not be afraid to be ourselves. The first paragraph within “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain” grabs the readers attention and reveals Hughes stand of keeping and taking pride of the black culture and uniqueness.

One of the most promising of the young Negro poets said to me once, "I want to be a poet--not a Negro poet," meaning, I believe, "I want to write like a white poet"; meaning subconsciously, "I would like to be a white poet"; meaning behind that, "I would like to be white." And I was sorry the young man said that, for no great poet has ever been afraid of being himself. And I doubted then that, with his desire to run away spiritually from his race, this boy would ever be a great poet. But this is the mountain standing in the way of any true Negro art in America--this urge within the race toward whiteness, the desire to pour racial individuality into the mold of American standardization, and to be as little Negro and as much American as possible.

This excerpt shows how at the time of segregation young black artist were willing to give up their ethnic uniqueness to become assimilated and accepted into the white society. One can understand this act of shedding oneself to be accepted into a society, where if an individual was not the majority they were not counted as equal. So in order to have their work recognized black artist had to hide or want to hide their identity which was their skin color, in order to be acknowledged as equal. Hughes wasn’t afraid to express the truth when he said that this young poet would not be a great poet if he continued to run from his race and not accept who he is. Hughes felt that blacks should be comfortable in their own skin and not have to succumb to the white American standard. Through this manifesto Hughes became a spokesman for young black writers and artists, showing them that they don’t have to be white to be great, although society may believe that. Black is beautiful and we cannot be afraid of our uniqueness.

Hughes was able to express his creativity and ideas through different genres of writings. Through his writings he was able to give his people a voice and tell their story and history, showing that the black community was part of the American experience. “The White Ones” and “The South” are two of Hughes poems that expresses the black experience. In “The White Ones” Hughes expresses the notion of “torture”. “O, white ones why do you torture me?” This line expresses the oppression of blacks throughout history, blacks have gone through extreme hate from the white society. Even from the end of slavery, racism did not come to an end. Blacks were still being threatened, beaten, killed and lynched just for being black. Just being black you were placed as inferior, this was the torture that Hughes was writing about. Denying a person freedom, rights and a voice as if they were not a human being was torture. Treating a person as if their non-existent, degrading them and trying to shed their self-esteem is torture. “I do not hate you, for your faces are beautiful too. I do not hate

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