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February 1 1902 - May 22 1967 Born in Joplin Missouri James Langston Hughes was a member of an abolitionist family He was the great-great-grandson of Charles Henry Langston brother of John Mercer Langston who was the first Black American to be elected to public office in 1855 Hughes went to Central High School in Cleveland Ohio but began writing poetry in the eighth grade and was selected as Class Poet His father didnt think he would be able to make a living at writing and encouraged him to pursue a more practical career He paid his sons tuition to Columbia University on the grounds he study engineering After a short time Langston dropped out of the program with a B average he continued writing poetry His first published poem was also one of his most famous The Negro Speaks of Rivers and it appeared in Brownies Book Later his poems short plays essays and short stories appeared in the NAACP publication Crisis Magazine and in Opportunity Magazine and other publications One of Hughes finest essays appeared In the Nation in 1926 entitled The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain It spoke of Black writers and poets who would surrender racial pride in the name of a false integration where a talented Black writer would prefer to be considered a poet not a Black poet which to Hughes meant he subconsciously wanted to write like a white poet Hughes argued no great poet has ever been afraid of being himself He wrote in this essay We younger Negro artists now intend to express our individual dark-skinned selves without fear or shame If white people are pleased we are glad If they arent it doesnt matter We know we are beautiful And ugly too If colored people are pleased we are glad If they are not their displeasure doesnt matter either We build our temples for tomorrow as strong as we know how and we
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