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Tomorrow, Feb. 1, marks the beginning of Black History month in the U.S.A. It is a month set aside to honor and reflect on the contributions and history of black people.

Feb. 1 is the birthday of the late James Mercer Langston Hughes, an African American poet, playwright, novelist, columnist and activist who lived from 1902 to 1967.

Mr. Hughes is “best known for his work during the Harlem Renaissance,” the period in which “the Negro was in vogue.”

Mr. Hughes stressed the theme of “black is beautiful” and recorded his people’s “strengths, resiliency, courage and humor…as part of the general American experience.”

Mr. Hughes allegedly said, “My seeking has been to explain and illuminate the Negro condition in America and obliquely that of all human kind.” (Wikipedia)

The poem “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” (in The Crisis Magazine, 1921) traces the African American existence from Africa to the U.S.A.:
“I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young…I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln went down to New Orleans…”

The “Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain” (Hughes, from The Nation, 1926) is said to be the manifesto of Mr. Hughes and his fellow artists:
“The younger Negro artists who create now intend to express our individual dark-skinned selves without fear or shame…We build our temples for tomorrow, strong as we know how, and we stand on top of the mountain free within ourselves.”

Mr. Hughes’ love for black people is expressed in his poem “My People” (Crisis, 1923):
“…Beautiful, also, is the sun. Beautiful, also, are the souls of my people.”

In Mr. Hughes’ “Let America Be America Again,” an unseen (unrecognized) character confronts a person that idealizes the American dream by stating how the dream has eluded many people:
“…O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.
(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)
Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?
I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek –
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak …
O, Yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath –
America will be …”

I’ll close by noting that our second term U.S.A. President Barack Obama is an African American whose presidency will have to address the hopes and dreams of Americans.

Like the civil rights achieved by the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., President Obama’s achievement as the first black USA president did not mark the end of discriminatory practices in America. It did, however, proclaim “a giant leap for mankind” in America. Best wishes to President Obama and for America.

“…Where evil men would seek to perpetuate an unjust status quo, good men must seek to bring into being a real order of justice.” – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Peggy Tarr

Peggy Tarr has been a columnist for the Evanston RoundTable since its founding in 1998. Born in Bruce Springsteen's hometown of Freehold, New Jersey, she graduated from Rutgers University with a degree...