Langston Hughes was America's Jazz Poet, the chronicler of life in Harlem in the 1920s. Setting out to write about black Americans, Hughes created a body of work-poetry, fiction, journalism, essays, plays, and song lyrics. While decrying racism and the inequities it created for blacks and other minorities, Hughes called for cooperation among all races. With one ear tuned in to the voices he heard on the street and the other to the music he heard in nightclubs, Hughes created poems that made him one of the stars of the Harlem Renaissance. .
James Langston Hughes was born in Joplin, Missouri, on February 1, 1902, the only child of James and Carrie Hughes to survive infancy. Another son born two years earlier had died.
Carrie Hughes came from a family that had been prominent in the abolitionist movement. A lover of books and plays, she had once dreamed of becoming a professional actress. Instead, like so many black women of her time, she had to settle for the jobs she could find, working as a stenographer and a waitress.
James Hughes wasn't able to pursue his professional goals. Hardworking and ambitious, he earned a law degree, but racism made it impossible to sustain his practice. Frustrated by limited opportunities in the United States, he left Missouri for Mexico before his son was two years old. Though he periodically sent money, he never lived with his family again.
When his father left for Mexico in 1903, Langston and his mother moved to Kansas, where her mother, Mary Langston lived. For ten years Langston lived with his grandmother as his mother moved from town to town in search of a decent job. Langston suffered not only from poverty but also from restrictions that came with living in a segregated community. While he attended an integrated school, he wasn't permitted to take part in its team sports. In spite of these obstacles, Langston developed a natural sense of self-confidence.