February 1, 1902 – Birthdate of Langston Hughes, American poet, novelist, playwright (d. 1967).
James Mercer Langston Hughes was also a social activist and columnist. He was one of the earliest innovators of the then-new literary art form called jazz poetry. Hughes is best known as a leader of the Harlem Renaissance. He famously wrote about the period that “the negro was in vogue”, which was later paraphrased as “when Harlem was in vogue”.
As a young teen, Langston Hughes moved to Cleveland because his step-father had found work in the region’s steel mills. The family had previously lived in Joplin, Missouri and Lincoln, Illinois.
It wasn’t long before his mother and step-father moved on, this time to Chicago. But Hughes stayed in Cleveland in order to finish high school. His writing talent was recognized by his teachers, and by his senior year at Central High School Hughes began writing poetry of distinction. His first pieces of verse were published in the Central High Monthly, a sophisticated school magazine. Hughes graduated from Central High in 1920.
Each year as a holiday treat, Karamu House stages Langston Hughes’ popular play, “Black Nativity.” In 2002, the city of Cleveland presented a series of yearlong events to celebrate what would have been the 100th birthday of Langston Hughes. The tribute included a local unveiling of a U.S. postage stamp honoring the famous writer. Cleveland’s acclaimed Karamu House, the nation’s oldest African-American cultural arts institution, enjoyed a 40-year association with Hughes. He worked with Karamu House to produce many plays at a time when theaters and other public institutions were segregated.
The stamp shown here today is one of the issues in the U.S. Postal Service’s popular Black Heritage series: