Langston The Negro did not have right to work


Langston Hughes’ Success in Defending His Race

(A Term

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Submitted to the Council of the College of Languages at Salahaddin
University- Erbil


By: Evan Esmail Hamad

(MA. In
English Literature, English Department)


Asst. Prof. Dr. Sherzad Shafi Barzani







   MY EFFORT HAS BEEN to understand and explore
how ideas of race have affected currents of thought in America. I have been
more interested in what people thought about race than in what they did about it.
On the other hand, since ideas of race have nearly always gone hand in hand
with definite programs of action, I have also attempted to describe what was
happening in race relations at the time the theorists were propagating their
doctrines. This book is, then, both a history of race theory and a history of






































1- Introduction

   There might be having a question in our mind
about the beginning of the idea of race and slavery in America. But the answer will
be clear if someone read something about history of Europe with the United
State that influenced by science, government and culture. It is important to
know that how the term race and slavery appeared and developed throughout the

   By the 1600s, when England was superior
power colonized most of other countries, composed the labor system in the
colonies which named as white bond-servant, in order to give a harsh treatment
of servants in the colonies. The Negro did not have right to work because they
did not need them. As the term of service for white bond-servants was
decreasing, the demand for labor was increasing. In these cases, the number of
Negroes imported increased. So, the status of Negroes was finally recognized as
different from that of other servants. In 1670s Virginia law declared that
“all servants not being Christians” who were brought into the colony
by sea were to be slaves for life. (Gossett, 1997)

   The first writer who linked the race between
biological and social hierarchy was Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) Jefferson who
was a Virginia slave owner, was the first one who mentioned the idea of
superiority of the whites and inferiority of the blacks. In his book Notes
on the State of Virginia (1776) “…blacks, whether originally a
distinct race, or made distinct by time and circumstances, are inferior to the
whites in the endowments both of body and mind.” (Jefferson, 2006)


   At the beginning of the nineteenth-century,
with the progression of science and technology another theory appeared that
against the idea of racism was the theory of Darwinism. Charles Darwin (1809-1882)
in Origin of Species (1859) believed in monogeny which he claimed that the
various forms of life on earth were one species there is not difference between
humanity in general. (Abbott, 2004)

   There are some writers who introduces African
condition of life as slaves, and their works have being universally important
and their aim was to defend the slaves who treated as a sub-human and even they
influenced the political power and public opinion; such as John Newton’s
(1725–1807) Amazing Grace (1772) he wrote the words from his personal
experience he witnessed working on an English slave ship. Also, Harriet Beecher
Stowe in 1852 wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin which was the famous novel that
reveals a realistic picture of the slavery.

   Another immigration of African American’s
people was started at the beginning of the 20th century; they immigrated to the
industrial cities in the north especially Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis, and Tulsa
for working in the factories. They want to escape because of war and violence
condition that happened in the South. They faced many difficulties especially
during 1915 to 1920s. But the question is that is these difficulties made
Langston Hughes as a racial writer to have a successful voice? Or is there
something else made him to shine in Negro’s sky?




2- Racism in the United States of America

   Racism can be defined after understanding of
the term race. Biologically, race is a physical difference among human beings
in skin color, the place where they live, and their behavior. But socially, it
can be used to describe peoples who have the same national identities. So,
racism is the systematic comparison between members of racial groups who have relatively
little social power with members of the agent racial group who have relatively
more social power.

    The United States was that Promised Land
which most of African’s wish to live in. But the dominant White culture as
usual controlled African American minority population. They believed in this
sentence; “If you’re White, you’re all right; if you’re Brown, stick
around; if you’re Black, get back” .  In America for centuries, Black people were
slaves owned by White people. Degradation, violence, mistreatment and
malnutrition, were features of Black people’s lives under slavery. (Trotter,

    In the moment of the Great Depression black
workers who lived in the industrial cities experienced increasing difficulties.
Black urban unemployment was more than twice the rate of whites. In southern
cities, white workers rallied around such slogans as, “No Jobs for Niggers
Until Every White Man Has a Job” and “Niggers, back to the cotton
fields—city jobs are for white folks.” In the cotton fields they treated
as a slave and tortured by their masters as Solomon Northup in his novel 12
years a Slave talked about the condition of black people in the cotton fields.


3- Harlem Renaissance

   The term ”Harlem Renaissance” refers to
the Cultural movement of African-American that appeared between the World War I
and the Great Depression which  black
writers and artists  immigrated to the
United States especially to the New York, Harlem was a section of New York that
became the center of black people in America which they increased their
cultural activities. Harlem Renaissance has sometimes been known as ‘New Negro
Renaissance’ a term that includes all African Americans, regardless of their
location, who participated in this Cultural Revolution. (Galens, 2002)

The Southern
of America mostly had known as agricultural state in opposite to the North
which had known as Industrial state. Between 1890 and 1920 the Great War
collapsed the Southern agricultural economy, so the Africans immigrated   to the
north to work in the factories. But the problem was that the Northern citizens
did not welcome them and even the owners of the factories were treated with
them badly. 

   African American’s writers, musicians,
actors, and artists, were glorify their traditions and make them famous and
being accepted throughout the world. Such as, Clauded Mckey (1890-1948) who was
the oldest of Harlem Renaissance was published his collection poems entitled Harlem
Shadow (1922) mostly addresses the injustice toward the black people. Also,
Jean Tommer (1894-1967) published his famous and unusual novel under the named Cane
in 1923; the novel binds story, sketches, poems, one-act play and prose to
show the idea that the blacks like the whites are more free to celebrate their


    Another influential figure of the Harlem
Renaissance was Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960) that fought against poverty that
usually associated with black people. She published the novel Their Eyes
were Watching Gad (1937) that tells the story of a black woman struggling
to assert her identity. James Langston Hughes (1902-1967) was another prominent
figure who has an important role in defending his race.       (Abbott, 1996)

   Literature of the Harlem Renaissance
embodied a wide variety of themes that one can see the lack of cohesion in the
writer’s works. The race can be the first theme which they have dealt with,
most of the poetries, novels and stories are about color and race
discrimination. The second one is African heritage that viewed in the various
ways, even some of them considered their heritage as a source of their
inspiration, like Langston Hughes’ The Negro Speaks of Rivers (1921).
The last theme is conflicting image of blacks, as writers issue in the Harlem
Renaissance was portraying African-American life; they want to give a positive
image of black people. ( Galens, 2002)









4- Langston Hughes as a racial poet

Hughes was a black American poet, novelist, essayist, playwright, and
short-story writer. He was known as a leading figure of the Harlem Renaissance.
From educated family, his father was a lawyer and his mother was a teacher. Hughes
became both famous and beloved during his life because of his humanistic view
towards racism. He wanted to present black life in the best possible light to
help improve the plight of African Americans. (Ousby, 2012)  

poems mostly talks about the problem of racism.  For example, in Fantasy in Purple the African
drum of tragedy and death becomes a metaphor for humanism and survival. As I
Grew Older blends reflection and nostalgia as the speaker, framed by light
and shadow, seeks to rediscover his dream. In Mexican Market Woman, Hughes’s
narrator uses simile to create a dark mood of weariness and pain. And through
the persona in Troubled Woman, the narrator portrays humanity similarly
bowed but unbroken. With blues irony, the voice modifies implicitly the pessimistic
side of the spirituals nobody knows de trouble I seen into the more
optimistic side I know trouble don’t last always. Also, Mother to Son,
a dramatic monologue, shows how dialect can be used with dignity. (Tracy, 2004)

   Thus, by using allusion, fantasy, travesty,
and irony, in his poems Hughes depicts his ideas and dreams. He draws upon the
rich themes of his entire career, such as humanism, free speech, nationalism,
racism, integration, and poverty.



4-1 Langston Hughes’ success in defending his race

  A- Racial (Heritage) pride:  As a black writer Hughes was always proud
about his race this shows from his poems because he believed in equality
between all beings on earth. Also, he is proud of his ancestors who had been
the source of his inspiration. For example in his poem The Negro Speaks of
Rivers (1921) shows that his soul (black people’s soul) had “grown
deep like the rivers”:

“I’ve known rivers: I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and
older than the flow of human blood in human veins”

   Through visual imagery the speaker wants to
convey the meaning of ‘river’ as a symbol of life and civilizations. As if the
speaker wants to tell other black people that we are just like rivers and we
are the symbol of life and hope, to make them believe in their specialty.  In July 1926, while he was eighteen, Hughes visited
his father in Mexico. He was crossing the Mississippi River to St. Louis; and
wrote this poem in which he addressed three famous and ancient rivers.

he is crossing the Mississippi River, as he thinks about what this river
crossing had meant to the thousands of enslaved Africans as they traveled to
their new home in America to be sold and bred like a herd of cattle. His
progression of thought about these travels then led him to think about the
rivers of the past – his past – his African past. In the first volume of his
autobiography, The Big Sea (1940), Hughes explains this stream of consciousness
regarding his union with his ancient historical past: “Then I thought about
other rivers in our past – the Congo, and the Niger and the Nile in Africa –
and the thought came to me: ‘I’ve Known Rivers’…”   (Howard,


  “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” is a tribute to
the black man, not to a “sad mulatto” like himself, and it is a powerful
manifestation of the significance of the black people in the past. The poem
implies that the black man’s wisdom and strength is derived from his long
coexistence with nature and God. The river, the symbol of eternity, deep, ever
flowing and mysterious, has transferred to the black man its immortality: “my
soul has grown deep like the river”.  the
Euphrates and the Tigris, and then follows his ascent throughout history,
towards ever greater skill. It indicates that he was present at the first of
our known cultures, the river-cultures at  The history of the river is a human history,
and we can give the river a human voice to tell its story.

First he
uses the image of the primitive tribe member, asleep in his humble hut by the
river Congo, perfectly contented in his unpretentious existence. At the next
stage of his progress, the Negro is shown as the proud and capable constructor
of one of the world’s wonders. Now he is not sleeping by the river. He is
placed above it, overlooking it to find a site for his masterpiece. “I looked
upon the Nile/and raised the pyramids above it”.

“I heard the
singing of the Mississippi/and I’ve seen its muddy bosom burn all golden in the
sunset”, when Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves. The repetition of the phrase
“My soul has grown deep like the river” turns it into a warning: “Remember my
worth. I am as good as you are. Perhaps better”.