Connect with us

Great Gay Poets Friday! Langston Hughes



Editor’s Note:

This is our fourth and, sadly, final post in honor of National Poetry Month, thanks to guest blogger Julia Garbowski, who conceived the idea and has done an excellent job sharing with us some of her favorites, including last week’s Edna St. Vincent Millay. Julia also shared with us great posts about Oscar Wilde and Hart Crane, and Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman. This week, Julia looks at several poems by Langston Hughes.

I’m pleased to announce that Julia will be permanently joining our quickly-growing team here at The New Civil Rights Movement, and she’s working on some great ideas for future pieces. Welcome, Julia!

Langston Hughes, born in 1902, wrote one of his most well known poems at the age of seventeen. He wrote it on an envelope that he had in his pocket while riding on a train from Missouri to Mexico where he hoped to reconnect with his father. Raised mostly by his storytelling grandmother who had been one of the first women to attend Oberlin College, he had a strong sense of his black heritage.

The Negro Speaks of Rivers

By Langston Hughes

I’ve known rivers:

I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow

of human blood in human veins.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.

I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep

I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.

I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln went

down to New Orleans, and I’ve seen its muddy bosom turn

all golden in the sunset.

I’ve known rivers:

Ancient, dusky rivers.

My soul has grown deep like rivers.

His “rivers” included a family history of prominence and folk heroes although financial stability was lacking. His white grandfather had staunchly insisted on marrying the black woman he loved, his Great-Uncle, John Mercer Langston, was the first black man to be elected to Congress in Virginia, and his grandmother’s first husband had been killed as a result of John Brown’s raid at Harper’s Ferry. From a very early age he was given a purpose in life, –to work for equal rights for Black Americans.

In “Black Poets of the United States” Jean Wagner says of the poem that it “heralded the existence of a mystic union of Negroes in every country and every age.” But Langston Hughes’ rivers also included a stream of sexuality that he chose to hide. He carefully guarded his sexual preferences leaving some to suspect that he had none at all, while others point out that in order for him to be prominent in the Harlem Renaissance and continue to work toward black civil rights, he could not have revealed himself as gay during that time period. He died in 1967 which was two years before the Stonewall Riots that are often cited as the beginning of the gay rights movement .

When I read his poems they call me back to the black civil rights movement, but as in the following example written when he was just 20, they also speak to a greater truth about equality and human worth.

Question [1]

By Langston Hughes

When the old junk man Death

Comes to gather up our bodies

And toss them into the sack of oblivion,

I wonder if he will find

The corpse of a white multi-millionaire

Worth more pennies of eternity,

Than the black torso of

A Negro cotton-picker?

While Arnold Rampersad’s most definitive work on his life “The Life of Langston Hughes,” does not provide irrefutable evidence that he was gay, it does include sufficient evidence to build the argument. Even Rampersad writes that Hughes was attracted to black men, finding them “appealing and sexually fascinating.” But more compelling is that the question of his sexuality brings his work and life into coursework for Gay Studies at major universities and colleges throughout the country, including Yale, the University of Chicago and U.C. Berkeley.

The truth is that his sexuality was a secret; he did not claim or deny it in any case. Hughes is widely believed to have been gay because of connections to gay men and gay culture, long close friendships with out gay men, travels with companions, such as black gay artist Zell Ingram, and lack of relationships with women. Some of his poems also are given as evidence including “Young Sailor,” “Waterfront Streets,” “Café 3AM,” (about a police raid on a gay bar), and a series of unpublished poems claimed to be to a black male lover named “Beauty.”

The film “Looking for Langston” written and directed by Isaac Julien, produced by Nadine Marsh-Edwards in 1992 gives a much more definite portrayal of him as homosexual. I would love to think that Hughes thought his sexuality did not matter and therefore kept it private, but, knowing about his focus on the inequality of blacks in America, and knowing that he held close connections with gay culture; I cannot help but believe that he knew of a need to fight for the civil rights of gays as well, even if he was not ready to embrace that challenge.

I like to read my favorite Langston Hughes poem in the context of gay rights and the New Civil Rights Movement.

I, Too, Sing America

By Langston Hughes

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.

They send me to eat in the kitchen

When company comes,

But I laugh,

And eat well,

And grow strong.


I’ll be at the table

When company comes.

Nobody’ll dare

Say to me,

“Eat in the kitchen,”



They’ll see how beautiful I am

And be ashamed—

I, too, am America.

For more: “The Life of Langston Hughes” Vols I, II, by Arnold Rampersad, (Oxford University Press, 1986) “Remember Me to Harlem: The Letters of Langston Hughes and Carl Van Vechten” edited by Emily Bernard (Vintage Books, 2001). Also recordings at Smithsonian Folkways Records were made in 1955 of Langston Hughes reading his poems. Listen online at various sites, or look for CD: “The Dream Keeper and Other Poems of Langston Hughes” of the Folkways recordings.

Julia Garbowski lives in Royal Oak, MI and has returned to writing after 25 years of running a farm and market in Door County WI. She grew up in Sag Harbor, NY. Her B.A. in Communications is from the University of Wisconsin. She belongs to the Michigan Literary Network and her twitter name is @driftnotes.

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Enjoy this piece?

… then let us make a small request. The New Civil Rights Movement depends on readers like you to meet our ongoing expenses and continue producing quality progressive journalism. Three Silicon Valley giants consume 70 percent of all online advertising dollars, so we need your help to continue doing what we do.

NCRM is independent. You won’t find mainstream media bias here. From unflinching coverage of religious extremism, to spotlighting efforts to roll back our rights, NCRM continues to speak truth to power. America needs independent voices like NCRM to be sure no one is forgotten.

Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Help ensure NCRM remains independent long into the future. Support progressive journalism with a one-time contribution to NCRM, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you. Click here to donate by check.


82-Year-Old Black Woman Arrested and Handcuffed by Alabama Police Over $77 Unpaid Trash Bill



Martha Menefield, an 82-year-old Black woman in Valley, Alabama, had police officers show up to her home on Sunday and arrest her for failing to pay a $77 trash bill, CBS42 reports.

Menefield told CBS42 that she thought the bill had already been paid, “but they said it hadn’t.”

“And the cuffs,” she said, her eyes swelling with tears. “They’re so heavy.”

When the officer told her not to cry, Menefield asked him, “How would you feel if they came and arrested your grandmama?”

IN OTHER NEWS: Pennsylvania Republicans change their tune on mail-in voting after getting pasted twice in a row

“I’m just happy my grandkids weren’t here to see that,” Menefield said, her voice shaking. “That would have upset them. I was so ashamed. And it’s been bothering me.”

In a post on the city’s social media account, Valley’s police chief defended the arrest.

“City of Valley Code Enforcement Officers issued Ms. Menefield a citation in August of 2022 for non-payment for trash services for the months of June, July, and August,” Chief Mike Reynolds’ statement said. “Prior to issuing the citation, Code Enforcement tried to call Ms. Menefield several times and attempted to contact her in person at her residence. When contact could not be made, a door hanger was left at her residence. The hanger contained information on the reason for the visit and a name and contact phone number for her to call. The citation advised Ms. Menefield that she was to appear in court on September 7, 2022, in reference to this case. A warrant for Failure to Pay-Trash was issued when she did not appear in court.”

Since the arrest, Menefield has been thinking about the role of God in her life.

“I’ve been questioning God a little bit,” she said. “I guess cause I’ve been so upset. I had a daycare here for eight years, and I’ve been asking the Lord. I say ‘Why did this happen to me as much as I’ve done for people, Lord? I’ve paid my tithes every Sunday. I ushered at church. I was just questioning. Something’s just not right.”

Read the full report over at CBS42.

Continue Reading


‘Another Happy Jobs Day’: Economists Thrilled With ‘Amazing’ Report as Jobs Growth Beats Expectations, Wages Increase



The Biden economy added a whopping 263,000 jobs last month, crushing expectations of 200,000, and wages are growing as well, leading one economist to declare “another happy jobs day.”

The U.S.Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) adds that unemployment remains at a near-historic low of 3.7% in November, “and has been in a narrow range of 3.5 percent to 3.7 percent since March.”

University of Michigan School of Economics Professor Justin Wolfers exclaimed, “It’s yet ANOTHER happy jobs day. Payrolls rose +263k, well above expectations.”

“This expansion just keeps on rolling on,” added Wolfers, a senior fellow at The Brookings Institution.

RELATED: ‘This Is a Very Strong Economy’: Experts Cheer October Jobs Report – Blast Those Claiming ‘Recession’

Wolfers also takes on those who have been falsely pushing “recession” talking points.

“BTW, remember all that recession talk? It was nonsense. Bollocks. Cow dung,” he tweets. “There never was a recession. And the economy sure doesn’t look like it’s in one now. Job growth at this rate is the economy singing: ‘This is a robust expansion.'”

And he also slams the doom and gloom forecasters.

Economist David Rothschild sums up where the Biden economy is compared to the rest of the world.

IN OTHER NEWS: ‘This Is Nazism’: Americans Outraged After Kanye West Praises Hitler – ‘This Is Not a Clown Show. It’s Dangerous’

“Economy is far from perfect,” he writes, “but conditional on the worldwide pandemic and supply chain issues generated from pandemic: US economy has done *amazing* over last 2 years.”

In news alerts The New York Times reported hiring “continued to exceed expectations,” The Wall Street Journal called it “a sign of continued strength in the labor market,” and even Fox News reported it as “stronger-than-expected.” CNN referred to the jobs report as “robust” and “defying expectations.”

“America’s jobs engine kept churning in November, the Labor Department reported Friday, a show of continued demand for workers despite the Federal Reserve’s push to curb inflation by tamping down hiring, The Times reported. “The labor market has been surprisingly resilient in the face of successive interest rate increases by the Fed over the past year. Even sectors normally sensitive to borrowing costs, like construction and manufacturing, have been slow to back off the brisk pace of growth they posted coming out of the pandemic.”

The BLS also broke down unemployment numbers by demographics.

“Among the major worker groups, the unemployment rates for adult men (3.4 percent), adult women (3.3 percent), teenagers (11.3 percent), Whites (3.2 percent), Blacks (5.7 percent), Asians (2.7 percent), and Hispanics (3.9 percent) showed little or no change over the month.”


Image: Matt Smith Photographer / Shutterstock

Continue Reading


‘The Law Is Clear’: Appeals Court Rules Trump Handpicked Judge Should Never Have Appointed Special Master



A three-judge panel on the conservative 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled against Donald Trump, and effectively against his hand-picked federal district court judge Aileen Cannon in the ex-president’s “special master” case.

The judges, all three conservatives, two of whom appointed to the bench by Trump himself, ruled that Judge Cannon should never have agreed to Trump’s request to appoint a “special master” to review all the items the Dept. of Justice removed from his Mar-a-Lago residence by executing a legal search warrant.

Cannon had ordered the special master to specifically review approximately 100 classified documents, and blocked the DOJ from accessing them while they were under review. That block halted its investigation into Trump’s likely illegal retention of the documents and other items – over 10,000 – he removed from the White House and was string at Mar-a-Lago.

RELATED: In Trump’s ‘Special Master’ Appeal 2 of 3 Judges Are Ones He Appointed – and Both Previously Ruled Against Him

CNN calls Thursday’s ruling “a major defeat for former President Donald Trump.” The appeals court’s ruling halts  “a third-party review of documents seized from his Mar-a-Lago estate,” and “removes a major obstacle to the Justice Department’s investigation into the mishandling of government records from Trump’s time in the White House.”

“The law is clear,” the judges wrote in their ruling Thursday, posted by NBC News’ Daniel Barnes. “We cannot write a rule that allows any subject of a search warrant to block government investigations after the execution of the warrant. Nor can we write a rule that allows only former presidents to do so. Either approach would be a radical reordering of our caselaw limiting the federal courts’ involvement in criminal investigations.”

“And both would violate bedrock separation-of-powers limitations,” they continued. “Accordingly, we agree with the government that the district court improperly exercised equitable jurisdiction, and that dismissal of the entire proceeding is required.”

READ MORE: ‘Roughing Him Up’: Judges Scorch Trump’s Attorney in Tense Hearing Over His ‘Secret’ Argument

They also wrote: “In considering these arguments, we are faced with a choice: apply our usual test; drastically expand the availability of equitable jurisdiction for every subject of a search warrant; or carve out an unprecedented exception in our law for former presidents. We choose the first option. So the case must be dismissed.”

“The district court,” meaning Judge Cannon, “improperly exercised equitable jurisdiction in this case. For that reason, we VACATE the September 5 order on appeal and REMAND with instructions for the district court to DISMISS the underlying civil action.”


Continue Reading


Copyright © 2020 AlterNet Media.