February is Black History Month, a celebration of the passionate heritage and spirit of African Americans.
Born on this day in Joplin, Missouri and raised with a keen sense of social justice, poet James 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 Claude McKay, 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."
The prolific artist wrote for 50 years, creating over 800 poems, screenplays, novels, and short stories. His drama, Mulatto (1935) ran on Broadway for 373 shows.
With his heart-felt writing, Hughes brought black art to maturity. He celebrated the love of community and family, the beauty of the soul, and the importance of his race. "I am a Negro...and beautiful!"
With free verse that infused the blues and jazz rhythms, Hughes captured the rich nuances of urban life. He considered the rhythms to be "like the waves of the sea coming one after another... so is the undertow of black music with its rhythm that never betrays you, its strength like the beat of the human heart, its humor and its rooted power."
How beautiful we are!