February is Black History Month, a celebration of the vibrant heritage of African Americans.
Born on this day in Joplin, Missouri and raised with a keen sense of social justice, author and poet James Mercer Langston Hughes (1902-1967) led the Harlem Renaissance, the exuberant artistic movement of the 1920s.
"What happens to a dream deferred?" he asked with classic poignancy.
Hughes, influenced by poets Carl Sandburg and Walt Whitman, wrote his first poetry in high school. His first collection, The Weary Blues, was published in 1926. His courageous grandmother helped slaves escape to the North and shared her stories with him.
"Hold fast to dreams for if dreams die/Life is a broken-winged bird that cannot fly," observed the man who said he wrote with "earthly pain" and "to explain and illuminate the Negro condition in America."
With his heart-felt writing, Hughes brought black art to true maturity for the first time. He celebrated the beauty of the soul and the pride of humanity, pride of his heritage. "I am a Negro...and beautiful!"
Passionately, Hughes celebrated with pride. With free verse that infused the blues and jazz rhythms, he captured the rich nuances of urban life. Listen to the force of his words. That sound was his social power.
"I stuck my head out the window this morning and spring kissed me bang in the face," said the prolific artist who wrote for 50 years, over 800 poems, screenplays, novels, and short stories.