During the early 1930s many black writers begin to produce works that helped to shape and define the Civil Rights movement. Among them was Langston Hughes whose poems and writing contributed directly to the rhetoric of the day and inspired many African-Americans, both in and out of the Civil Rights movement. Much of this grew out of what was called the Harlem Renaissance, which emerged during turbulent times for the world, the United States, and black Americans. World War I and the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 had left the world in disorder and stimulated anti-colonial movements throughout the third world. In America, twenty years of progressive reform ended with the red scare, race riots, and isolationism throughout 1919 and led to conservative administrations through the twenties. While blacks were stunned by racial violence near the end of the decade and were frustrated by the lack of racial progress that progressivism had made, they were now armed with new civil rights organizations and confronted the approaching decade with new hope and determination.
Education and employment opportunities had led to the development of a small black middle class, and few blacks thought that their future lay in the economically depressed rural South, resulting in hundreds of thousands migrating to seek prosperity and opportunity in the North. As these more educated and socially conscious blacks settled into New York's neighborhood of Harlem, it developed into the cultural and political center of black America. It is out of this environment that Langston Hughes developed. In 1926, professor Alain Locke (1969) observed, "The younger generation is vibrant with a new psychology," which was shown by a shift from "...social disillusionment to race pride." Locke noted that this new psychology rejected the old stereotypes of black "aunties, uncles, and mammies" and substituted instead self-respect, self-dependence, and racial unity, and much of that is the core of Hughes writings. Emerging from social and intellectual upheaval, the Hughes and the Harlem Renaissance marked a change in the attitude of blacks in the United States. While the Harlem Renaissance was not a political movement, its participants, including Hughes were affected by the political world around them and responded in varying ways to their political environment.
Perhaps the most direct way that black writers addressed political issues was through political and protest writings, and Hughes made protest a significant element in his works, especially in his somewhat radical poetry of the early 1930's. In his poem "Mulatto", Hughes (1994) writes, "Because I am the white man's son, his own / Bearing his bastard birth-mark on my face, / I will dispute his title to the throne, / Forever fight him for my rightful place." Throughout his poetry, he directly and indirectly referred to vigorous hatred for the white man, of his people's dreams deferred too long. He used literature to protest the inequality faced by blacks nationwide. Hughes' writing put a level of anger into the early Civil Rights movement and he and other black writers felt that black literature could be used as a key weapon in the fight for civil rights.
Hughes, though his writings also incorporated a little bit of communist philosophy in to the early Civil Rights movement, and Hughes wasn't alone in his ideas. The Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 drew cheers from many black Americans who were thrilled to see a revolutionary organization pledged to racial and ethnic equality and proletariat brotherhood rise up and seize control. Seeing an opportunity to build a strong foundation on black Americans, the Communist Party of the United States pledged itself to encourage social interaction and intermarriage as a movement policy, and the organization proclaimed that African Americans had the right to self-determination in the South. Although the movement never really took hold or was able to sustain itself in America,...
Bibliography: Berry, Faith. Langston Hughes: Before and Beyond Harlem.Westport, Conn.: Lawrence Hill, 1983.
Hughes, Langston "A New Song". International Working Order. New York: Viking Penguin, 1968.
Hughes, Langston. The Best of Simple. New York: Hill and Wang, 1961
Locke, Alain. The New Negro, New York: Atheneum Press, 1969.
Meltzer, Milton. Langston Hughes: A Biography. New York, NY: Thomas Y. Crowell
Mullen, Edward J. Critical Essays on Langston Hughes.Boston, Mass.: G. K. Hall, 1986.
Wintz, Cary D, Black Culture and the Harlem Renaissance. Houston, Rice University Press, 1988
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