James Mercer Langston Hughes, 1902 - 1967

portrait of Langston Hughes
Portrait by Carl Van Vechten (29 February 1936)

Born: 1 February 1902, Joplin, Missouri
Died: 22 May 1967, New York City

While his parents were black, both his grandfathers were white and both parents were educated. His father left the family to seek opportunities in Cuba and Mexico, avoiding racial prejudice in the US. While his mother sought employment, Hughes was raised by his maternal grandparents at Lawrence, Kansas. After his grandmother's death he lived with his mother at Lincoln, Illinois and Cleveland, Ohio where he went to high school. Hughes lived with his father in Mexico for a year, a time he spent convincing his father to pay for tuition to Columbia. His father insisted he study engineering, he insisted on Columbia, but he left that school in 1922 because of racism. He signed on as a crewman on the S. S. Malone in 1923, after six months at sea he spent time at Paris and London. Returning to the US in 1925 he took a job as an assistant to a historian but quit because busing tables in a hotel left him more time for his poetry, which had been published in a number of magazines by that time. He went to Lincoln University in Chester County, Pennsylvania, earning a BA in 1929, then moved to Harlem where he spent the rest of his life. He was influential in the Harlem Renaissance and his poetry took a consistent stand against racial discrimination. His biographers are conflicted on the question of his possible homosexuality. He died from complication following abdominal surgery related to prostate surgery, his ashes are interred beneath the floor of the foyer of the Langston Hughes Auditorium at the Arthur Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture at Harlem. In addition to his earned BA he has two honorary doctorates, a host of other awards for his work, and was included in the US Postal Service's Black Heritage series of commemorative stamps.

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