Working-class voice for equality, peace and socialism – People’s World

Langston Hughes

Originally posted March 29, 2002.

Langston Hughes is justifiably known as the Poet Laureate of the African-American people. He died May 22, 1967 in New York City.

He consciously carried on the unfinished equality struggles bequeathed by African-American history and of his own day. Not a poem, story or libretto by him did not speak out against racial oppression and give voice to aspirations of first-class citizenship in all walks of life. Always with him the equality cause was linked with the cause of the multi-racial working class as a whole and oppressed people and people of color world wide.

Outstanding is the working-class content of this life and writings of Langston Hughes. He grew up in a struggling working class family in Jim Crow USA. From his first job, in 7th grade as a cleaner in a hotel, until about age thirty, when he was able to do writing full-time, he worked at many jobs. At the same time he always wrote, invoking the life and culture of the African American people.

Even after his momentous decision to do writing full-time, he was a working journalist from the 1930s to the 1960s. From the 1940s to the 1960s he regularly wrote a column for The Chicago Defender. This column consisted of imaginary conversations with Jesse B. Simple, a Black worker in Harlem. It made clear that while his writing was inspired by and addressed to the African American people as a whole and the working class as a whole, his main focus was on left-leaning Black workers.

In one conversation Simple says, “Is it red to want to earn wages? Is it red to want to keep your job? And not to want to take no stuff off bosses?”

From an early age Langston Hughes identified with working-class internationalism and to the role of workers in basic social change.

In 1917 when the Russian working class came to power and withdrew their country from World…

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