The Harlem Renaissance had a huge impact on the music, education, and the daily life of African Americans living in Ghetto Harlem. One of these Harlem thinkers was Langston Hughes, who went to college at Columbia University near Harlem. During the Renaissance, the African Americans showed their frustrations of discrimination within their music and writing, this helped them get through the tough times. Hughes played a key role in the realistic portrayal of African American lives through his writing. Hughes was famous for many of his poems including “Theme for English B,” in which he writes about how a black man is trying to be equal to a white man, even though African Americans were discriminated against. Hughes crafts a character that very much resembles himself, the character is a student in a predominantly white college, similar to what type of college Hughes went too. The narrator talks about his experience of being the only colored student in his class. Furthermore, inequality during the mid-20th century was at its peak. During that time, Hughes writing was influenced by the black oppression, the Harlem Renaissance, and the Civil Rights Movement.
The Black Oppression, the Harlem Renaissance, and the Civil Rights Movement changed the lives of African Americans in many good ways and bad ways. Black Oppression is giving unfair treatment and having a prejudice against other people. In the 20th century, most Americans were oppressing the black community. According to Flora Hatley Wadelington, the African American community were being discriminated against things that normal people go to, for example, “ restaurants, travel[ing], amusement [parks], and recreation facilities, libraries, hospitals, prisons, housing, and municipal services such as fire stations. Restaurants did not seat minorities in the dining room, and movie theaters had balcony seating for African Americans. There were separate libraries and hospitals, or white hospitals had a separate ward where African American patients were treated”. Little by little, all these separation rules started to change into the Jim Crow laws, this limited the freedom of the African Americans even more. The Harlem Renaissance or also known as the New Negro Movement. It took place in the 1920s after World War I. Harlem was the center of where many African American journalists, writers, performers, photographers, and scholars explored to find a place where they could express all there unique talents and hobbies. The Harlem Renaissance began when African Americans started to migrate to the northern cities and states. They started to migrate because of the horrible segregation in the south and World War I. In the North, there was a demand for more labor workers, and about 5 million black people migrated. According to Jessica Johnston, during the Harlem Renaissance, “literary, artistic, and intellectual movement … kindled a new black cultural identity. … Harlem became the center of a ‘spiritual coming of age’…The Harlem Renaissance was successful in many ways… encouraged a new appreciation of folk roots and culture”. The Renaissance influenced most of the future black artists, poets, and performers sharing all of their cultural experiences through the times. Lastly, Civil Rights are the rights that protect individuals freedom without any discrimination. Civil Rights began in 1865 and is still active today. There were groups of individuals that started a civil rights organization, like the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People). According to the National Museum of American History website, in the 1920s, this organization helped lead,“ the black civil rights struggle in fighting injustices such as the denial of voting rights, racial violence, discrimination in employment, and segregated public facilities”. The goal of the NAACP was to assimilate society and make everyone equal. The NAACP helped make many big changed for all the African Americans. Overall, with the help of the Civil Rights Movement and the Harlem Renaissance, there is still black oppression today. African Americans are still being mistreated because of the color of their skin.
Langston Hughes writing is influenced by black oppression in his poem “Theme for English B.” At the time when Hughes was writing this poem and going to school, the black communities were being treated differently and unfairly compared to the white communities. For example in the poem, the narrator says, “So will my page be colored that I write? Being me, it will not be white” (Hughes 27-28). In the quote, Hughes is using a play on words, by using the word “colored.” The narrator is explaining how his paper would be graded differently because of inequality in society. During that time, there was a difference between turning in an essay that was written by a white person and a African American person. At the end of the quote, when he says “being me, it will not be white”, it shows that the narrator, is used to feeling that he doesn’t belong and knows that he is different. The narrator also talks about how there is a lot of inequality against African Americans. For example, the narrator describes what he likes to do as an African American adult. The speaker says, “ Well, I like to eat, sleep, drink, and be in love. I like to work, read, learn and understand life. I like a pipe for a Christmas present or records Bessie, bop, or Bach. I guess being colored doesn’t make me no like the things that other folks like who are other races.” (Hughes 21-26). From the tone that Hughes uses in this quote, it seems like his classmates and teacher think that he is different, but the narrator is trying to explain that he’s not. Hughes is using ethos to show his classmates and professor that he does normal things just like they do on a daily basis. At the time black oppression was horrible, the white people didn’t even think that African Americans can do normal things as they do. According to Marcus Alexis, even in the 50s, around the time Hughes wrote this poem, there was still a lot of black oppression problems. In her journal article, he says “segregated education, housing, transportation, and public accommodations and (ii) employment discrimination, which translated into lower earnings, entry barriers to many occupations and industries”. Even after trying to show the white community that they are African Americans are the same, it is just their skin color that is different, the white people still treat them horribly.
Langston Hughes was influenced greatly by the Harlem Renaissance, this is what got him through everything. According to Kristin Wood, Hughes was, “the prominent writers of the Harlem Renaissance. Although he was fiercely proud of his heritage and identity as a black man, his words crossed stubborn racial boundaries during a hostile and segregated time period, earning him a well-deserved spot in the history of literature.” The Renaissance helped Hughes open up about what was going on in his community and going on in society. His writing really shows how the horrible ways the African Americans were treated, affected their lives. He wrote about topics that other writers were struggling to write about. In the poem, the speaker goes on to explain how he travels a great distance every day just to go to “this college on the hill above Harlem” (Hughes 9). Even though this quote separates him from the other students because most of the people attending the university were white and privileged who can afford to live near the college or even dorm there. It seems like he’s proud to go through Harlem to get to school. Back in the 1920s, when the Harlem Renaissance had just begun, it was a way for the African Americans to be prideful and happy to be who they are. This is what got all the African Americans through the rough times of being hated on and being discriminated against. The narrator is happy to go through Harlem because it reminds him of all the good and happy things that happened there.
During the 1950s when Hughes wrote this poem, it was when the Civil Rights Movement and the NAACP had helped make some little and big changes in society. According to the NAACP website, “By the 1950s the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, headed by Marshall, secured the last of these goals through Brown v. Board of Education (1954), which outlawed segregation in public schools. The NAACP’s Washington, D.C., bureau,… helped advance not only integration of the armed forces in 1948 but also the passage of the Civil Rights Acts of 1957, 1964, and 1968 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.” The NAACP made very big changes for the black communities but it wasn’t enough for them to be treated equally. For example, in “Theme for English B” the narrator talks about inequality not only in the classroom but also every day in society. In the first stanza, the speaker identifies himself as an African American at Columbia University, the narrator specifically says that he is, “the only colored student in my class.”(Hughes 10). The speaker indicates that his race separates him, physically from his white classmates and professor. Hughes uses a play on words to show that there is still segregation and that since he is the only colored student in his class, he will be treated differently. According to V.P. Franklin, when black people finally started attending college the, “African American college students not only questioned the rules and regulations that governed their lives on campus…many also viewed themselves as ‘New Negroes’ who should use their collegiate training to advance the race. To a very great extent, the black college rebellions … were generated by the cognitive dissonance black collegians experienced when they left the real world of ‘New Negros’” This shows that the African Americans wanted to learn and be educated but they never had the chance to. They were all ready to make a difference and change the way society looked at black people Even though there were new laws that allowed African Americans to go to school with white people, it didn’t make a change in how they were treated in school and in society. Additionally, the speaker describes how even though he, is a black adult, who was born on the same land as a white man, the black man has fewer rights than the white man The narrator claims that this is unfair and says, “ You are white-yet a part of me, as I am a part of you. That’s American” (Hughes 31-33). The speaker is trying to use pathos to make the connection with his professor and classmates that they are from the same country and that they are the same. The narrator is trying to say the point that they should have equal rights, they are from the country. Everybody has disagreements with each other but its American to come together and realize that differences and all come together. Furthermore, the narrator describes how a white person is treated with more respect and has more rights than a black man. The narrator says, “ although you’re older-and white- and somewhat more free.” (Hughes 39-40). This is very powerful because Hughes is using a play on words on the word “somewhat” by using that word, Hughes is trying to be sarcastic and make the situation of segregation sound better. The professor being a white man in the 50s he would have so many more opportunities than a black man.
Still 100 years later and there is still inequality problems in today’s world. Hughes writing still relates to today’s world in so many ways. Many African Americans are still being treated unfairly compared to white people. It’s very sad to say but there is still black oppression many people mistreat African Americans all the time by, normal people calling the cops on them for no reason, by being mistreated by police officers and even being mistreated by many public officials. Many people would think that the cops are here to help our community but instead, on the news its always talking about another African American being shot. We also did accomplish some things over the 100 years, American had its first African American president. This showed the African American community that they can accomplish anything they set their mind to.