Published On: February 27, 2024

contributed by Courtney Napier, ABA Classroom Lead, Easterseals Crossroads

Courtney’s greatest role model and influence in her life has been her grandmother who was was a beautiful writer and loved writing poems. Despite her sudden death when Courtney was 15, she has had her guidance and influence in her life through her writings. When Courtney misses her, or wants her advice, she can look to her poems and hear her voice all these years later. When Courtney was thinking about who to write about for Black History Month, she wanted to find someone whose creativity and artistic expression made a mark on the world, like her grandma’s writing made on her. This led Courtney to Langston Hughes, who used his writings to advocate for his community.

Langston Hughes was born February 1, 1901, in Joplin, Missouri. His parents divorced when he was young, and he was raised by his mother and grandmother. In high school, he began writing poetry and went on to become an established writer, eventually becoming one of the leaders of the Harlem Renaissance. Although mostly known for his poetry, he’s also written novels and plays and was a journalist for the Black newspaper called The Chicago Defender. Hughes focused on a wide variety of topics and spoke often on the injustices of segregation and the continued racism and mistreatment of Black people, even decades after the end of slavery.

One topic that was important to Hughes was celebrating Black culture rather than attempting to assimilate to white culture. In 1926, he wrote an essay titled The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain where he spoke about witnessing Black families try to act white in an attempt to fit in and be American. He urged Black people to embrace their culture and stand out, to remember where they came from and to continue the fight of their great grandparents and ancestors for true freedom and peace.

This stance was not popular at first, and Hughes became a divisive topic among the Black community with many feeling that Hughes painted Black culture in a negative light. Others, however, felt that Hughes showed pride in his community, and wanted to continue to build a culture outside of the oppression that was so often associated with the Black population. Hughes encouraged other Black artists and advocates to be upfront and embrace who they were to differentiate themselves from white culture.

Even decades after his death in 1967, people can still look to Hughes’ writings to learn and broaden their horizons. This one particular poem by Langston Hughes’ summarizes his impact.

I look at the world
From awakening eyes in a black face —
And this is what I see:
This fenced-off narrow space
Assigned to me.
I look then at the silly walls
Through dark eyes in a dark face —
And this is what I know:
That all these walls oppression builds
Will have to go!
I look at my own body
With eyes no longer blind —
And I see that my own hands can make
The world that’s in my mind.
Then let us hurry, comrades,
The road to find.
-I Look at the World by Langston Hughes

Academy of American Poets. (2016). Langston Hughes | Academy of American Poets.

Hughes, L. (1926). The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain.