"The younger Negro artists who create now intend to express our individual dark-skinned selves without fear or shame. If white people are pleased we are glad. If they are not, it doesn't matter. We know we are beautiful. And ugly, too. The tom-tom cries, and the tom-tom laughs. If colored people are pleased we are glad. If they are not, their displeasure doesn't matter either. We build our temples for tomorrow,strong as we know how, and we stand
on top of the mountain free within ourselves."
Listen up. The daddy knows that Langston Hughes is a poet you already know and appreciate. But you know what? The daddy just couldn't celebrate National Poetry Month without saying something about one of America's greatest poets.
Langston was a baad brotha; and today he is celebrated not only for his great poetry but for the courageous stands he took on controversial issues in his time : from the 1920's all the way up to the 1960's. The brotha wrote on revolution, communism, poverty, racism, anti-semitism, the war in Spain, the black militancy of the 1960's, Hitler-- all of the issues. And he wrote with clarity and style. This is why Langston Hughes continues to be read and celebrated by people all over the world-- because many of the issues of his time are still issues of our time today.
In his essay, "The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain," first printed in The Nation magazine in 1926, Hughes drew the line, saying literature should be used as a tool to better understand and improve the conditions of African Americans.
Hughes took his stance at a time when some black writers, usually those who came from middle or upper-income families, took the position that they didn't want to become black writers but writers or artists. The black press, also from the upper-crust and light-skinned, sided with these writers and that viewpoint. These were the "Black Republicans" of their day, the shoe shining Michael Steeles and handkerchief headed Aunt Jemimas of the "Negro Elite." But Langston was different.
True, other writers such as novelist Charles W. Chestnutt and Laurence Dunbar had developed this principle and written with this principle in mind. But Hughes was the first to clearly state this principle and declare it as a kind of manifesto for black writers and black artists of his time.
Hughes made this declaration at a time (the 1920's and the 1930's) when many Americans, black and white, saw poetry as lyrical, speaking of romance, love and beauty in nature. However, Hughes saw poetry as social as well, speaking to the individual in relation to the society in which he or she lived. He focused specifically on the state of black Americans within the so-called American democracy.
The book "The Weary Blues" was divided between lyrical and social poetry. However, his next book of poety, "Fine Clothes to the Jew," was all social poetry, much of it written in black dialect. But as Stevens suggests, "The Weary Blues" signaled where a young Langston Hughes was going with his writing. "Fine Clothes to the Jew" cemented the deal. It said in so many words what "The Weary Blues" had already concluded:
that this young artist was going to speak to the conditions of black people as an oppressed people in white nation-state that, ironically, prided itself on being a democratic republic.
And there would be no turning back.
The Weary Blues
|by Langston Hughes|
Droning a drowsy syncopated tune,