|Langston Hughes in 1936. Photo by Carl Van Vechten|
Born in 1902, Langston Hughes was a prolific civil rights activist, writer, and central figure of the Harlem Renaissance. Beginning his career in 1921, he continued writing until his death in 1967 with over a dozen novels, plays, short story collections, and volumes of poetry to his credit.
Hughes' work portrayed the working-class black people, who led lives filled with struggle, joy, laughter, and music. As the nation edged closer to racial integration, many considered Hughes' style and subject matter out of date.
Fellow writer Loften Mitchell said of Hughes:
"Langston set a tone, a standard and brotherhood of 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."
Of all his work, Hughes is probably best known for his poem "The Negro Speaks of Rivers."
In his manifesto, "The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain," published in 1926, he wrote:
"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."
Truer words rarely spoken.