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The Harlem Renaissance brought about many great changes. It was a time for expressing the African-American culture. Many famous people began their writing or gained their recognition during this time. The Harlem Renaissance took place during the 1920’s and 1930’s. Many things came about during the Harlem Renaissance; things such as jazz and blues, poetry, dance, and musical theater. The African-American way of life became the “thing.” Many white people came to discover this newest art, dancing, music, and literature. The Great Migration of African-American people from the rural South to the North, and many into Harlem was the cause of this phenomenon. Harlem was originally a Dutch settlement. Harlem became one of the largest African- American communities in the United States, and during the Harlem Renaissance became a center for art and literature. Many great writers came about during this time, one of which was Langston Hughes. Hughes was born in 1902 with the name James Langston Hughes, and died in 1967. He lived most of his adult life in Harlem. He grew up without a stable family environment. His father moved to Mexico, and he never really saw much of him. Hughes was often referred to as “Harlem’s poet” (Haskins 174). Hughes had and still has a great influence on poetry.
Hughes poetry was a reflection of the African-American culture and Harlem. He wrote many poems, and continued to write even after the Harlem Renaissance. He loved Harlem that was his home. He watched it decline with the onset of the Great Depression. He saw Harlem turn into a place to be feared by many. It was a sad and dangerous place to be, after the depression. Hughes described the impact of the Great Depression upon African-Americans, “The depression brought everyone down a peg or two. And the Negro had but a few pegs to fall” (Haskins 174). Langston Hughes valued the teaching of children. Many of his poems are children’s poems. He often traveled to schools and read his poetry. His first published works were in a children’s magazine during the 1920’s. He published a book of ABC’s called The Sweet and Sour Animal Book. He wanted to inspire the youth, and make them feel good about themselves. He did not only write poetry, but that is what he is famous for. Much of his poetry talks of the hardships, poverty, inequality, etc. of the African-American people. His work has inspired many people, and is read by many students and scholars. He is a great positive role model. I personally love his poetry. It describes these problems within our society that still have yet to be resolved. It opens the reader’s eyes to the many disadvantages that many people have suffered through and are still trying to overcome.
Hughes writes about how the African-American people have been all over the world. In “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” he talks about them bathing in the Euphrates, building huts by the Congo, and singing of the Mississippi. I think that this poem is showing how these people are everywhere. That in America we act as if they are subordinate, but he is saying to the white people, look at all my race has accomplished. “We” built the pyramids, and we have been around as long as these rivers. This is a positive poem. It does not talk directly about racism nor puts down the white race for being prejudiced (Lauter 1612-13). In the poem, “I, Too” he describes how he is also part of what America is. Even if he is sent to eat in the kitchen, he is as much a part as anyone else. One day he will not be made to hide and eat in the kitchen. One day people will see that African-Americans are beautiful people, and will be ashamed of how they were treated. This poem gives hope to the black community. It makes them yearn for the day when equality will come and racism will end. Too bad that the day has still not yet come in this century (Lauter 1618). In his poem, “Harlem” this is addressed. He wonders what happens to dreams that are deferred. How long must one still dream of something that seems like it will never come. The African-American people have been waiting to be seen as equal for many years, yet it still seems so out of reach. His poetry seems to address this over and over again (Lauter 1619). In “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain,” a young Negro poet said, “I want to be a poet-not a Negro poet” (Lauter 1629). It also describes how many middle class blacks tried to be more like a “white” person. To disown their heritage in a way and become part of white America. He talks about how they should learn to appreciate their diversity and their culture. The blacks should be proud of their individuality. He thinks that many blacks are taught by white teachers, see white books and pictures, white papers, and then want to be what they are seeing. “Why should I want to be white? I am a Negro-and beautiful” (Lauter 1632). African-Americans must be themselves and build a foundation for the future blacks to stand upon so they can finally be “free within [them]selves” (Lauter 1632). He still carries the hope that one day his people will become equal, and that they can be appreciated for all that they have done for America (Lauter 1629-32).
James Langston Hughes will always be known as a great poet who did so much to make his race move toward equality. He wrote many inspirational poems. He wanted to reach a younger generation and show them that they can be successful. He wanted the children to be proud of who they are, and to excel in literature. He was part of something great. That something great was the Harlem Renaissance. It was a time of change. A time of happiness for the most part. A time when many people realized that there were many talented African-Americans. A time for new things and a new way of doing things. Jazz and Blues became popular. White people came to Harlem to see how blacks danced, and what music they listened to. Harlem became a very “hip” place. The arts flourished all around Harlem. People were having fun. This influenced many people and ways that still are around today. The influence of the music can still be heard in some of our music today. Many authors today were inspired by those of the Harlem Renaissance. It was a great time for the African- American community, but at the same time it caused fighting between the middle class and poorer blacks. The feeling of inequality still existed, but at least African-Americans were finally getting some recognition for some of the wonderful accomplishments that they have made.
Haskins, Jim. The Harlem Renaissance. Brookfield, Conn: Millbrook Press, 1996.
Hughes, Langston. “Harlem.” The Heath Anthology of American Literature. 3rd ed. Ed.
Paul Lauter. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1998. 1619.
Hughes, Langston. “I, Too.” Lauter 1618.
Hughes, Langston. “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain.” Lauter 1629-32.
Hughes, Langston. “The Negro Speaks of Rivers.” Lauter 1612-13.