This edition of Famous Contributors to The Saturday Evening Post focuses on the renowned Poet Laureate of Harlem, Langston Hughes.
Hughes’ life crisscrossed with other famous African-Americans—he went to Lincoln University along with famed civil rights attorney and Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall; his uncle was John Mercer Langston, the first African-American elected to the US Congress; and he worked alongside important figures such as W.E.B. DuBois during the Harlem Renaissance to foster creativity and expression in the black community. Hughes won the Harman Gold Medal for Literature, was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, and received the NAACP’s yearly Spingam Medal for outstanding achievement.
His work focused on the exploitation and oppression of fellow African-Americans and, during the 1920s and 30s, much of it showed a nod to Marxism. In 1932 he visited the Soviet Union, an experience that moved the young writer deeply.
However, his controversial viewpoints would come back to haunt him later in life. He was called in front of Joseph McCarthy’s Subcommittee on Investigations in 1953, and, although he was not charged as a “card-carrying” Communist, he was unable to make a decent living afterward. Even so, he is remembered as one of the greatest poets—of any color—in American history.
Hughes’ relationship with the Post could be described as “love-hate.” In his younger years, he described the publication as a “magazine whose columns, like the doors of many of our churches, has been until recently entirely closed to Negroes,” and criticized the magazine in his poetry. However, the relationship became more amicable as Hughes got older and he eventually submitted poetry to the magazine. Below are two poems from Hughes as they originally appeared in the Post.
Refugee In America
By Langston Hughes
There are words like “Freedom,”
Sweet and wonderful to say.
On my heartstrings freedom sings
All day everyday.
There are words like “Democracy”
That almost make me cry.
If you had known what I knew
You would know why.
By Langston Hughes
I stand most humbly before man’s
Knowing we are not really wise.
If we were, we’d open up the
And make earth happy as the