Tag Archives: Black Americans

Monday Morning Moment – Poet Langston Hughes on Life and America

Photo Credit: The Wisdom Daily

American poet Langston Hughes was born in 1902. His life as a black man in such a time as this gave voice to that of many in America. Especially blacks, but to others as well who also found themselves marginalized by the powerful and influential of their day. He died much too young at 65.

I discovered his poetry in 2020…very late to the party or revolution.

Raised by a loving, Godly mom, I was taught to be color-blind regarding races of people. It turns out that didn’t prove to be healing to black friends, neighbors, and strangers on the street. Blacks whose lives had been deeply and darkly affected by a racism I simply had not learned or experienced. How could that be? Yet, it is true.

[My mom had a pure heart; I’m sure of this. She wanted to believe that there was only one race, the human race. She grew up poor, worked hard all her life, mostly making minimum wage, held her family together, and kept her faith. Much like the black women who lived in that distant, unknown part of town. She just didn’t know what was happening in government and the private sector that divided us…and diminished some. All of us, by degrees.]

Racism is wrong and must be exposed and wrestled down. I don’t believe that what has happened in the US over 2020 will move us in that direction.  I could be wrong. For sure.

Still…I’m so thankful for people who, despite the wrongs done to them or around them, have flourished. Like the rising tide, raising all boats in its wake. My desire is to recognize and support those who resist street-level thuggery and use platforms that don’t divide but draw us all in.

Langston Hughes is an example of that sort of person. [Now, he died during a pivotal time in the Civil Rights Movement, a year before Martin Luther King, Jr., was killed. Had he lived longer, I don’t know how his thinking or poetry would have changed.]

I’d like to let just a few of Langston Hughes’ words speak for him:

“Looks like what drives me crazy
Don’t have no effect on you–
But I’m gonna keep on at it
Till it drives you crazy, too.”
“I swear to the Lord,I still can’t see,Why Democracy means,Everybody but me. ”

“I have discovered in life that there are ways of getting almost anywhere you want to go, if you really want to go.”
Langston Hughes

On this day, commemorating Hughes’ birthday, a friend of mine posted on Facebook the two following poems (one by Walt Whitman followed by a poem of response by Langston Hughes):

I Hear America Singing – Walt Whitman – 1819-1892

*I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,

Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong,
The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work,
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deckhand singing on the steamboat deck,
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing as he stands,
The wood-cutter’s song, the ploughboy’s on his way in the morning, or at noon intermission or at sundown,
The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work, or of the girl sewing or washing,
Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,
The day what belongs to the day—at night the party of young fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.”*

I, Too – Langston Hughes – 1902-1967

“I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

Tomorrow,
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody’ll dare
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
Then.

Besides,
They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed–

I, too, am America.”*

Hughes wrote about America and life as a black person in America. Especially as it related to freedom of expression:

“This is the mountain standing in the way of any true Negro art in America — this urge within the race toward whiteness, the desire to pour racial individuality into the mold of American standardization, and to be as little Negro and as much American as possible...Then there are the low-down folks, the so-called common element, and they are the majority — may the Lord be praised!…These common people are not afraid of spirituals, as for a long time their more intellectual brethren were, and jazz is their child. They furnish a wealth of colorful, distinctive material for any artist because they still hold their own individuality in the face of American standardization. And perhaps these common people will give to the world its truly great Negro artist, the one who is not afraid to be himself.” – Langston Hughes, The Weary Blues

Here, on the first day of Black History Month, in a more somber America 2021, I salute the great poet Langston Hughes. May we learn from him and from each other.

[May we also beware of those who “seem to be influential” in our culture today – those who would divide and diminish us – when we have the capacity and capability to help each other flourish…all of us. – This warning coming of all places from my reading in the Bible this early snowy morning, Galatians 2.]

I’d like to close with just an excerpt of the powerful Hughes poem “Let America Be America Again” (recited in full in the YouTube video above):

“O, let America be America again– The land that never has been yet– And yet must be–the land where every man is free. The land that’s mine–the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME– Who made America, Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain, Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain, Must bring back our mighty dream again. Sure, call me any ugly name you choose– The steel of freedom does not stain. From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives, We must take back our land again, America! O, yes, I say it plain, America never was America to me, And yet I swear this oath– America will be! Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death, The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies, We, the people, must redeem The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers. The mountains and the endless plain– All, all the stretch of these great green states– And make America again! “

I Dream a World – Langston Hughes

*Poets – Lesson plan, which features poems by Walt Whitman, Langston Hughes and Elizabeth Alexander

10 of Langston Hughes’ Most Popular Poems – Rachel Chang

The Bold Wisdom Within Langston Hughes’ Poems – Ellen Levitt

Black Lives Mattered to Langston Hughes – Robin Bates

5 Friday Faves – Big Birthdays, Long Life, Words on Inauguration Day, the Life and Wisdom of Hank Aaron, and Bonuses Make 5

Fastest week ever. Here I am late again for Friday Faves, but they have to be posted. It was a beautiful and amazing week for this woman here. Hope you will find something through which you are encouraged or amused. Happy week ahead!

1) Big Birthdays – I had a big birthday this week. Big. One of those with a 0 in the 1’s place. Another year, it would have been celebrated by a beach somewhere. With a dinner in a nice restaurant or a movie out with Dave and a family-size buttered popcorn. COVID. So…my kids planned a birthday lunch for me, and that would have been sweet enough. Coming so close after Christmas, I just couldn’t come up with any gift ideas. It was going to be ok…just being thankful for life and with my little family. Well…this birthday turned into a one-day-after-another, full of surprises huge hurrah!! Dear friends and neighbors showed up in so many sweet ways. In so many humbling and satisfying ways. That birthday joy was spread through a full week. Wow! So many thanks to you who knew this was going to be a bit bewildering for me. Can we do this again next year?!

2) Long Life – During my younger years, the Bible verses promising long life to those who honored their parents were easy to grab hold of. My parents were easy to honor. It just wasn’t much work for me. In fact, it was a joy.

Honor your father and your mother, as the LORD your God commanded you, that your days may be long, and that it may go well with you in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.
 – Deuteronomy 5:16

Here’s to long life! And wonderful parents! Especially after one of those “big” birthdays.

3) Words on Inauguration Day –  Every four years, this large day is observed in the United States of America. The peaceful transfer of power from one president to the next (after a two-term presidency or if the incumbent doesn’t win the second term). There are speeches, songs, and oaths. Many highlights. The most special for me? The 22 y/o poet laureate Amanda Gorman asked to recite one of her poems for President Biden…as the rest of the world listens.

Below is just a bit of her poem. Click on the video for the whole.

“We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace
And the norms and notions
of what just is
Isn’t always just-ice
And yet the dawn is ours
before we knew it
Somehow we do it
Somehow we’ve weathered and witnessed
a nation that isn’t broken
but simply unfinished.”

‘Not Broken But Simply Unfinished’: Poet Amanda Gorman Calls for a Better America – Camila Domonoske – NPR

Caleb McDaniel – What Is America? Is It a Place? Is It a People? Is It an Idea?

4) The Life and Wisdom of Hank Aaron – Baseball great Henry “Hammerin’ Hank” Aaron died this week. He was a great athlete and a great man. my Dad loved the Atlanta Braves…so much so that whenever they lost in the playoffs, the World Series no longer had interest for him. Hank Aaron spent most of his baseball career with the Atlanta Braves, and I grew up watching him and hearing Dad talk about him.

I should have known, but didn’t, how much racism Hank Aaron endured. Especially as he edged closer to beating the homerun record of national hero Babe Ruth. Aaron could bring homeruns…Photo Credit: Hank Aaron, AZ Quotes

…all day long. Hammerin’ Hank. He was a champion and a man with deep character. How is one’s character forged? With Hank Aaron, he probably learned it from a mom and dad, but he also unfortunately learned it through suffering. [“…suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”Romans 5:3-5]

I thank God for Hank Aaron – for enduring the racism of that era without bowing to bitterness. He was a shining light to so many.

Please find below some of what Hank Aaron said about life and baseball:

“In playing ball, and in life, a person occasionally gets the opportunity to do something great. When that time comes, only two things matter: being prepared to seize the moment and having the courage to take your best swing.”

“I need to depend on Someone who is bigger, stronger and wiser than I am. I don’t do it on my own. God is my strength. He gave me a good body and some talent and the freedom to develop it. He helps me when things go wrong. He forgives me when I fall on my face. He lights the way.”

“What you do with your life and how you do it is not only a reflection on you, but on your family and all of those institutions that have helped to make you who you are.”

“I am very proud to be an American. This country has so much potential, I’d just like to see things better, or whatever, and I think it will be.”

“The way I see it, it’s a great thing to be the man who hit the most home runs, but it’s a greater thing to be the man who did the most with the home runs he hit. So as long as there’s a chance that maybe I can hammer out a little justice now and then, or a little opportunity here and there, I intend to do as I always have — keep swinging.”

Hank Aaron: Chasing the Dream (1995 film)

YouTube Video – Vin Scully Calls Hank Aaron’s Historic 715th Home Run

5) Bonuses Make 5 – The week flew by. Any of the following could have been #5, but you can choose. I could not.

I dream a world where man
No other man will scorn,
Where love will bless the earth
And peace its paths adorn
I dream a world where all
Will know sweet freedom’s way,
Where greed no longer saps the soul
Nor avarice blights our day.
A world I dream where black or white,
Whatever race you be,
Will share the bounties of the earth
And every man is free,
Where wretchedness will hang its head
And joy, like a pearl,
Attends the needs of all mankind-
Of such I dream, my world! – Langston Hughes
“A high school class learning about the Salem Witch Trials, and their teacher told them they were going to play a game.
“I’m going to come around and whisper to each of you whether you’re a witch or a regular person. Your goal is to build the largest group possible that does NOT have a witch in it. At the end, any group found to include a witch gets a failing grade.”
The teens dove into grilling each other. One fairly large group formed, but most of the students broke into small, exclusive groups, turning away anyone they thought gave off even a hint of guilt.
“Okay,” the teacher said. “You’ve got your groups. Time to find out which ones fail. All witches, please raise your hands.”
No one raised a hand.
The kids were confused and told him he’d messed up the game.
“Did I? Was anyone in Salem an actual witch or did everyone just believe what they’d been told?”
And that is how you teach kids how easy it is to divide a community. Some adults can learn a bit about this too.”