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James Mercer Langston Hughes

A Day in Langston Hughes Life 1902-1967

Birth Name

James Mercer Langston Hughes


Date of Birth

February 1, 1902 in Joplin, Missouri

Died on May 22, 1967 after having abdominal surgery and was cremated and set beneath the floor medallion in the middle of the foyer that leads to the auditorium of the Arthur Schomburg Center for Research in Harlem



Pinckney School, New York School, Central School, Central High School, Columbia University (dropped out in 1921), entered Lincoln University in 1926 and graduated in 1929 with B.A. degree



writer and poet



Father, James Nathaniel Hughes

Step-father, Homer Clarke

Mother, Mary Patterson Mercer Langston

Grandma, Carrie Mercer Langston


Primary Influence(s)

Paul Lawrence Dunbar, Carl Sandburg and Walt Whitman






Langston had a lonely childhood due to his mother moving place to place to find a job and while living with his grandma, he had no one to relate to. Father and mother separated shortly after Langston’s birth and so Mother and Langston moved back to Lawrence, Kansas with his grandma Carrie Mercer Langston. At the age of five or six, mother and child lived with his father in Mexico but things didn’t quite work out, and so the two moved back to Lawrence. Mother soon left Langston with his grandma in search for a job. Langston had lived with his grandma until he was around the age of 12 when she died and stayed with James and Mary Reed until he was 13 which he then moved in with his mom and step-dad Homer Clarke. His father neglected his interest and study in writing and though that it was a waste of time and effort. After finishing high school, his father wanted him to visit him down in Mexico. He then asked for his dad to pay for college tuition, but it was only to study under engineering. Later upon his ride back up north, he wrote “The Nigger Speaks of Rivers” which was published in Crisis magazine.



            Langston graduated Central High School in Cleveland, Ohio in 1920. After his graduation, he would visit his dad in Mexico to ask for his support for college. His father disliked him studying in writing and would only support Langston only if he was studying engineering. Upon returning, he would write one of his most famous poems, “The Nigger Speaks of The Rivers” that was published in the Crisis magazine.

            After one year at Columbia University, he ended dropping out of this profession and boarded a steamship to the Western Africa. Onboard, he would work as a steward; this was his only way of traveling since he wasn’t financially stable at the time. He traveled to mostly in Africa and Paris by working as clubs, washing dishes, cafés and restaurants.

            Upon his return in 1925, he was welcomed back by many blacks due to his poems. Eventually he moved to Washington D.C. since his mom wanted him next to her side. He then worked as a busboy at Wardman Park Hotel and there he met Vachel Lindsey whom would be the one to help him jumpstart his career. Upon dropping his pomes to Lindsey, Lindsey read them and was impressed. Later on in life Langston would be known as “Poet Laureate of the Negro Race” which he embraced the name from many blacks wanting to be called poets, not black poets.

            In 1926, he attended Lincoln University and there he’d graduate with a B.A. Degree in 1929. Langston later published his first novel, Not Without Laughter. Three years after graduating, he was hired by the Soviet government to be a motion picture writer. Fine Cloths to The Jew was then published in 1937.

            In 1953, Langston was forced to appear at the House of Un-American Activities but was not found guilty.

            On May 22, Langston Hughes died from a abdomen surgery. He was later cremated and set beneath the floor medallion in the middle of the foyer that leads to the auditorium of the Arthur Schomburg Center for Research in Harlem.