Blog

Voices I Need to Hear: Langston Hughes

Tracey McKee – December 9, 2021

Over the past several months, I have been reading the works of Black authors and poets.  Part of my reading has included Langston Hughes’ poetry.  Langston Hughes (1902-1967) is a well-known figure in American literature and poetry.  Accomplished as a playwright, novelist, poet, and more, Huges was a key figure during the Harlem Renaissance, which established Harlem as a cultural cornerstone for Black Americans. 

Image Source: The Novels: Not Without Laughter and Tambourines to Glory (Collected Works of Langston Hughes) 

Hughes’ poems, rooted in the everyday, everyman experience of Black people, poignantly capture both the JOY and the suffering, the ACCOMPLISHMENT and the longing, the HOPE and the discouragement faced by Black Americans.  His words are insightful, telling, and haunting.  Here are a few of his poems that especially spoke to me.  Read more of his work at poets.org.  

My People

Dream-singers,
Story-tellers,
Dancers,
Loud laughers in the hands of Fate—
           My People.
Dish-washers,
Elevator-boys,
Ladies’ maids,
Crap-shooters,
Cooks,
Waiters,
Jazzers,
Nurses of babies,
Loaders of ships,
Porters,
Hairdressers,
Comedians in vaudeville
And band-men in circuses—
Dream-singers all,
Story-tellers all.
Dancers—
God! What dancers!
Singers—
God! What singers!
Singers and dancers,
Dancers and laughers.
Laughers?
Yes, laughers….laughers…..laughers—
Loud-mouthed laughers in the hands of Fate.


Negro

I am a Negro:
        Black as the night is black,
        Black like the depths of my Africa.

I’ve been a slave:
        Caesar told me to keep his door-steps clean.
        I brushed the boots of Washington.

I’ve been a worker:
        Under my hand the pyramids arose.
        I made mortar for the Woolworth Building.

I’ve been a singer:
        All the way from Africa to Georgia
        I carried my sorrow songs.
        I made ragtime.

I’ve been a victim:
        The Belgians cut off my hands in the Congo.
        They lynch me still in Mississippi.

I am a Negro:
        Black as the night is black,
        Black like the depths of my Africa.


Mother to Son

Well, son, I’ll tell you: 
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
Bare;
But all the time
I’se been a’climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners, 
And sometimes goin’ in the dark, 
Where there ain’t been no light.
So boy, don’t you turn back;
Don’t you sit down on the steps, 
’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard;
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.


Aunt Sue’s Stories

Aunt Sue has a head full of stories.
Aunt Sue has a whole heart full of stories.
Summer nights on the front porch
Aunt Sue cuddles a brown-faced child to her bosom
And tells him stories.

Black slaves
Working in the hot sun,
And black slaves
Walking in the dewy night,
And black slaves
Singing sorrow songs on the banks of a mighty river
Mingle themselves softly
In the flow of old Aunt Sue’s voice,
Mingle themselves softly
In the dark shadows that cross and recross
Aunt Sue’s stories.

And the dark-faced child, listening,
Knows that Aunt Sue’s stories are real stories.
He knows that Aunt Sue never got her stories
Out of any book at all,
But that they came
Right out of her own life.

The dark-faced child is quiet
Of a summer night
Listening to Aunt Sue’s stories.



Tracey is a blog contributor for Brownicity. Her background includes training and organizational development, employee relations, and corporate recruiting in Charlotte’s banking industry.  A wife and mother of two daughters, Tracey began her racial healing journey when she participated in What Lies Between Us in 2018.  She was moved to participate in the workshop as her concern grew about the number of police shootings where unarmed black men were killed.  Colin Kaepernick’s  kneeling during the singing of the national anthem solidified her desire to learn and do more about ending racism.