1902: Henry James, The Wings of a Dove; Paul Laurence Dunbar, The Sport of the Gods; Enrico Caruso makes his first phonograph recording; the Dinwiddie Colored Quartet releases early recordings by African Americans; Aswan Dam opened; U.S. acquires perpetual control over the Panama Canal; Cecil Rhodes dies (b. 1853).
February 1, 1902: James Langston Hughes is born in Joplin, Missouri, later moving to the Lawrence, Kansas home of his grandmother Mary Langston with his mother Carrie when his father departs for Cuba. Hughes stays primarily with his grandmother during his early childhood while his mother moves about seeking jobs.
1903: W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk; Jack London, The Call of the Wild; Henry Ford founds the Ford Motor Co.; eighty-four African Americans reported lynched.
1904: Calls for a New Negro renaissance sounded by the AME Church Review; Abbey Theatre founded; Anton Dvorak dies (b. 1841); work begun on the Panama Canal; Paris conference held on the white slave trade; seventy-six African Americans reported lynched.
1905: Edith Wharton, The House of Mirth; Sinn Fein Party founded in Dublin; Niagara Movement founded by Du Bois and others; first issue of the Chicago Defender published; Theodore Roosevelt inaugurated President; fifty-seven African Americans reported lynched.
1906: "Everyman's Library" begun in London; Upton Sinclair, The Jungle; U.S. Pure Food and Drugs Act established; hair care business established by future millionaire Madame e. J. Walker; sixty-two African Americans reported lynched.
1907: Henry Adams, The Education of Henry Adams; John M. Synge, The Playboy of the Western World; first cubist exhibition in Paris; Ivan Pavlov studies conditioned reflexes; Alain Locke made first African American Rhodes scholar.
1908: First steel and glass building erected in Berlin; Ford produces the first Model T; major race riot in
Springfield, Illinois; Jack Johnson becomes first African American world heavyweight boxing champion; Thurgood Marshall born; eighty-nine African Americans reported lynched.
Hughes moves briefly to Topeka to live with his mother and enroll in school, but returns to his grandmother in Lawrence the following year.
1909: Gertrude Stein, Three Lives; Sergei Diaghilev premieres his "Ballet Russes"; Wm. Howard Taft inaugurated President; Sigmund Freud lectures on psychoanalysis in the U.S.; Robert E. Peary and
Matthew Henson reach the North Pole; NAACP founded on the 100th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's birth;New York Amsterdam News founded; sixty-nine African Americans reported lynched.
1910: Florence Nightingale (b. 1820) and Mark Twain (b. 1835) die; National Urban League founded; beginning of the Great Migration of some two million southern African Americans to northern cities; sixty-seven African Americans reported lynched.
1911: Arnold Schonberg, Manual of Harmony; sixty African Americans reported lynched.
1912: James Weldon Johnson, The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man; founding of Poetry: A Magazine of New Rhythms; G.B. Shaw, Pygmalion; Hart Wand's "Dallas Blues" and W.C. Handy's "The Memphis Blues" are the first blues published as sheet music; Samuel Coleridge-Taylor dies; Titanic sinks on its maiden voyage; F.W. Woolworth stores established; sixty-one African Americans reported lynched.
1913: Vachel Lindsay, General William Booth Enters Heaven; D.H. Lawrence, Sons and Lovers; "Armory Show" introduction of cubism and post-impressionism in New York; premiere of Igor Stravinsky's controversialLe Sacre du Printemps; Niels Bohr generates theory of atomic structure; Henry Ford establishes assembly-line production techniques; John D. Rockefeller founds the Rockefeller Institute; death of Harriet Tubman; fifty-one African Americans reported lynched.
1914: Vachel Lindsay, The Congo; James Joyce, The Dubliners; Robert Goddard initiates rocketry experiments; World War I breaks out (-1914).
1915: John Wesley Work, Folk Songs of the American Negro; Edgar Lee Masters, Spoon River Anthology; Marcel Duchamp generates the first Dada-ist paintings; D.W. Griffith's film Birth of a Nation premieres; Einstein postulates his General Theory of Relativity; Alexander Graham Bell places the first transcontinental telephone call; death of Booker T. Washington; KKK receives charter from Fulton County, Georgia Superior Court; Carter G. Woodson establishes the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History and The Journal of Negro History; fifty-six African Americans are reported lynched.
Hughes leaves Lawrence upon the death of his grandmother, joining his mother, her second husband Homer Clark, and his step-brother Gwyn "Kit" Clark in Lincoln, Illinois, where Hughes starts the eighth grade.
1916: Angelina Weld Grirnke, Rachel; James Joyce, Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man; Carl
Sandburg, Chicago Poems; H.D., Sea Garden; George W. Thomas publishes "New Orleans Hop Scop
Blues," which includes the first known instance of a blues utilizing a boogie woogie bass; first birth control clinic opens in the U.S.; Marcus Garvey arrives in the U.S. and establishes the Universal Negro
Improvement Association (UNIA); fifty African Americans reported lynched.
After graduating eighth grade with the honor of being named class poet, Hughes moves to
Cleveland, Ohio with his family and enrolls in Central High School, where he publishes poetry and prose influenced by Walt Whitman and Carl Sandburg in the school magazine.
1917: T.S. Eliot, Prufrock and Other Poems; C.G. Jung, Psychology of the Unconscious; first jazz recordings made by the white Original Dixieland Jazz Band; Woodrow Wilson inaugurated as President; U.S. enters World War I; outbreaks of race riots in East St. Louis and Houston; a march 10,000 strong protesting lynchings and racial injustice proceeds down New York's Fifth Avenue; thirty-six African Americans reported lynched.
1918: Georgia Douglas Johnson, The Heart of a Woman; Oswald Spengler, The Decline of the West; Max Planck introduces quantum theory; race riots continue to break out; sixty African Americans are reported lynched.
In the summer, Hughes goes to visit his mother, who has left his stepfather and moved to
Chicago. There he is exposed to a variety of blues performers, including Ma Rainey, who he hears performing at the Grand and Monogram Theaters.
1919: Sherwood Anderson, Winesburg, Ohio; W.E.B. Du Bois organizes the first Pan-African Congress; race riots continue to break out across the country; Gospel Pearls published by the National Baptist Convention; American Communist party established; Prohibition enacted; eighty-three African Americans are reported lynched in the "Red Summer of Hate" alone.
1920: T.S. Eliot, Poems; Eugene O'Neill, The Emperor Jones; 19th Amendment grants women's suffrage; Mamie Smith records first commercial African American blues songs; Mahatma Gandhi becomes leader in India's struggle for independence; fifty-three African Americans reported lynched.
Hughes graduates in June, once again the class poet and also editor of his high school annual. On the train en route to spend a year with his father in Mexico, he composes "The Negro Speaks of
Rivers," his first artistic triumph, but encounters resistance to his determination to become a writer from his father.
1921: KKK activities become brazenly violent across the South; Shuffle Along opens in New York City; Warren G. Harding inaugurated President; fifty-nine African Americans reported lynched.
In January, two poems solicited by Jessie Fauset for the children's magazine The Brownie's Book are published, prompting Hughes to submit "The Negro Speaks of Rivers" to Fauset for publication in The Crisis, the official publishing organ of the NAACP edited by W.E.B. DuBois, Augustus Granville Dill, and Fauset. Hughes enters Columbia University in September with the reluctant financial support of his father. More importantly, Hughes strikes up acquaintances with Fauset, DuBois, and poet Countee Cullen, and encounters over the next few years a club scene in Harlem that features Bessie Smith, Duke Ellington, Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, Bert Williams, James P. Johnson, Fats Waller, and Willie "the Lion" Smith.
1922: James Joyce, Ulysses; T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land; Sinclair Lewis, Babbitt; James Weldon Johnson, ed.,The Book of American Negro Poetry; Claude McKay, Harlem Shadows; William Carlos Williams, Spring and All; Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller's "Ethiopia Awakening" exhibited in New York; Dyer antilynching bill passed in the House but filibustered in the Senate; discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamen; fifty-one African Americans reported lynched.
Hughes withdraws from Columbia after refusing to travel to Mexico to assist his convalescing father, who had suffered a stroke. Hughes's poems continue to appear in The Crisis as he supports himself in such mundane positions as delivery boy and messman.
1923: Jean Toomer, Cane; Wallace Stevens, Harmonium; Runnin' Wild introduces and popularizes the
Charleston; George Gershwin premieres Rhapsody in Blue; Marcus Garvey sentenced to five years in prison for mail fraud; Calvin Coolidge succeeds Harding as President; twenty-nine African Americans reported lynched.
Hughes writes his pioneering, blues-inflected "The Weary Blues," inspired by a visit to a Harlem cabaret and his memory of the first blues verse he had ever heard as a child back in Lawrence. Seaman Hughes sails aboard the steamship West Hesseltine in June after impulsively and unceremoniously dumping all of his books into the harbor save for his copy of Whitman's Leaves Of Grass. Hughes visits a variety of ports on the West coast of Africa before returning in October. On shipboard, Hughes experienced his first homosexual encounter.
1924: Jessie Fauset, There Is Confusion; Walter White, Fire in the Flint; Ida Cox records "Wild Women
Don't Have the Blues"; James Van Der Zee begins a photographic series dealing with Marcus Garvey and the UNIA; Lenin dies (b. 1870).
Hughes's poetry appears in the radical magazine The Messenger, edited by A. Philip Randolph and Chandler Owen. Voyaging to Europe aboard the McKeesport as a seaman once again, Hughes leaves the ship and settles into a job in the kitchen of the Montmartre night club Le Grand Duc. There he enjoys the company of expatriate African American jazz musicians, including Buddy Gilmore and renowned singer and nightclub owner Ada "Bricktop" Smith. On a month-long vacation in Italy, Hughes winds up stranded in Genoa without his passport. In the midst of his isolation and trepidation, he writes the Whitman-influenced poem "I, Too."
1925: Franz Kafka, The Trial; F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby; John Dos Passos, Manhattan
Transfer; Alain Locke, ed., The New Negro; Countee Cullen, Color; Howard W. Odum and Guy B.
Johnson, The Negro and His Songs; Bessie Smith and Louis Armstrong record W.C. Handy's "S1. Louis
Blues"; Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf; Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters organized; Malcolm X born;
Calvin Coolidge inaugurated President; Scopes "Monkey Trial" takes place.
Hughes works in a variety of jobs in Washington, D.C. while living with his mother, including working in the office of African American historian Carter G. Woodson. Upon winning first prize in the Urban League's Opportunity poetry contest for "The Weary Blues," Hughes meets Carl Van Vechten, who arranges for the publication of Hughes's first volume of poetry by Alfred A. Knopf and miscellaneous publications in the popular Vanity Fair. Among other important contacts Hughes makes at the time are Alain Locke, who includes some of Hughes's work in his seminal anthology The New Negro (1925), Zora Neale Hurston, Wallace Thurman, and Arna Bontemps. A highly publicized encounter of the "bus boy poet" Hughes with renowned poet Vachel Lindsay, also an influence on Hughes's poetry, results in more press for the budding poet.
1926: Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises; Carl Van Vechten, Nigger Heaven; Eric Walrond, Tropic Death; W.C. Handy, Blues: An Anthology; George Antheil premieres Ballet Mecanique; Blind Lemon Jefferson records his first blues for Paramount Records; African American harmonica player DeFord Bailey performs regularly on the radio show "Bam Dance," which eventually becomes known as "The Grand Ole Opry"; Aaron Douglas embarks on the "Emperor Jones" series of illustrations; Carter G. Woodson introduces Negro History Week; twenty-three African Americans reported lynched this year.
The Weary Blues is published in January to positive reviews. Benefactress Amy Spingarn assists Hughes financially to attend Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. Hughes publishes his bold manifesto "The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain" in June in The Nation, and contributes to the incendiary but short-lived magazine Fire!!
1927: James Weldon Johnson, God's Trombones; Countee Cullen, ed., Caroling Dusk; Willa Cather,
Death Comes For the Archbishop; Carl Sandburg, American Songbag; Duke Ellington takes up residence at the Cotton Club; the first talking motion picture, The Jazz Singer, premieres; Charles Lindberg flies the Spirit of St. Louis" non-stop from New York to Paris; the Harlem Globetrotters are formed; Sacco and Vanzetti executed; Marcus Garvey's sentence is commuted and he is deported.
Hughes is berated in the African American press for his focus on what some considered the uninhibited and tasteless behavior of the "low down folks" portrayed in Hughes's Fine Clothes to the Jew. Locke arranges a poetry reading by Hughes before the Playwriter's Circle in Washington, D.C., where Hughes performs accompanied by a blues pianist, emphasizing his ties to the oral tradition and placing Hughes at the forefront of the poetry and musical performance tradition adopted famously by the Beats in the 1950s. Locke also introduces Hughes to "Godmother" Charlotte Mason, who acts as Hughes's patron over the next three years and immediately supports his travels in the South with another of her proteges, Zora Neale Hurston.
1928: Claude McKay, Home to Harlem; Nella Larsen, Quicksand; Stephen Vincent Benet, John Brown's Body; Maurice Ravel's Bolero premieres; Sutton E. Griggs records four sermons for Victor Records; interracial duo Lonnie Johnson and Eddie Lang record the first of a series of masterful jazz guitar duets; Oscar DePriest elected first African American congressman from a northern state; WGY broadcasts first scheduled television programs; Archive of American Folk Song established.
1929: Jessie Fauset, Plum Bun; Wallace Thurman, The Blacker the Berry; Walter White, Rope and Faggot; Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own; William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury; Archibald Motley paints "Blues"; Albert Einstein propounds the "Unified Field Theory"; "Black Friday" stock market crash; Herbert Hoover inaugurated President.
Hughes works on completing his first novel following his graduation from Lincoln in June.
1930: Hart Crane, The Bridge; Mike Gold, Jews Without Money; Sigmund Freud, Civilization and Its
Discontents; Augusta Savage sculpture Gamin completed; Grant Wood paints American Gothic; Pluto is discovered; Nation of Islam founded by W.D. Fard.
Hughes visits Cuba, where he fraternizes with many writers and artists. Back in the States, Mrs.
Mason suddenly drops him, apparently over aesthetic disagreements, and Hughes also clashes with and separates himself from Hurston and Locke. Meanwhile, his novel Not Without Laughter is published to respectable reviews and the Harmon Foundation Medal is awarded to Hughes for his contributions to American literature.
1931: Jessie Fauset, The Chinaberry Tree; George S. Schuyler, Black No More; Arna Bontemps, God
Sends Sunday; James Weldon Johnson, Black Manhattan; Edgar Varese premieres Ionisation; Al Capone jailed for tax evasion; Scottsboro Boys convicted of raping two white women in Alabama; Ida B. WellsBarnett dies (b. 1862).
Following his breakup with Mason, Hughes goes to Haiti for six weeks. He also begins to follow more intensely a leftist turn in his writing, publishing prose and poetry in the radical magazine The New Masses. Dear Lovely Death is published in a small edition by Amy Spingarn's Troutbeck Press. During a reading tour of the South, Hughes visits the Scottsboro Boys in prison. The Negro Mother is published by Golden Stair Press, the publishing company formed by Hughes and artist Prentiss Taylor.
1932: Aldous Huxley, Brave New World; Sterling Brown, Southern Road; Wallace Thurman, Infants of the Spring; first "Tarzan" appearance by Johnny Weismuller; Amelia Earhart first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic; Lindberg baby kidnapped.
Hughes's press publishes Scottsboro Limited, while Knopf releases two children's books, The Dream Keeper and Popo and Fifina, the latter written in collaboration with Bontemps. In June, Hughes travels to the Soviet Union with a group of twenty-two African Americans to participate in a film about U.S race relations. When the project collapses, Hughes stays on to write and, beginning in September, travel in Soviet Asia.
1933: W.B. Yeats, Collected Poems; James Weldon Johnson, Along This Way; Claude McKay, Banana
Bottom; Nathaniel West, Miss Lonelyhearts; Andre Malraux, La Condition humaine; Leadbelly makes his first recordings for thl': Library of Congress while an inmate at the Louisiana State Penitentiary; Franklin Delano Roosevelt inaugurated President; Adolf Hitler appointed German chancellor; creation of the first concentration camps by the Nazis in Germany; Roosevelt's New Deal programs initiated.
Hughes travels through the Soviet Union to China and Japan, but returns to California in
August. Noel Sullivan supports Hughes for a year in Carmel while Hughes is developing a group of short stories influenced by D.H. Lawrence.
1934: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tender is the Night; Zora Neale Hurston, Jonah's Gourd Vine; Nancy Cunard,
ed., Negro. An Anthology; John A. Lomax, American Ballads and Folk Songs; Virgil Thomson and
Gertrude Stein premiere opera Four Saints in Three Acts; Aaron Douglas paints Aspects of Negro Life;
DuBois resigns position at NAACP.
Knopf publishes the highly praised short story collection The Ways of White Folks.
Unfortunately, labor turmoil in California leads to the specter of anti-socialist violence directed against Hughes, so Hughes leaves Carmel and, in November, travels to Mexico in the wake of his father's death.
1935: James T. Farrell completes Studs Lonigan trilogy; Clifford Odets, Waiting for Lefty; Zora Neale
Hurston, Mules and Men; Countee Cullen, The Medea and Some Poems; George Gershwin premieres
Porgy and Bess; Roosevelt signs Social Security Act; Mary McLeod Bethune founds the National Council of Negro Women; Federal Writers Project established (1935-1939).
A sensationalized version of Hughes's play Mulatto is prepared for production unbeknownst to
Hughes, who arrives in New York in time to see it open on Broadway to harsh reviews. Hughes begins translating selected short stories by Mexican writers.
1936: William Faulkner, Absalom, Absalom!; John Dos Passos completes the U.S.A. trilogy; Arna
Bontemps, Black Thunder, Lawrence Gellert, Negro Songs of Protest; Archibald Motley paints "Saturday Night Street Scene"; Nazis put "Degenerate Art" on exhibit; Jesse Owens wins four gold medals at the Berlin Olympics; Mary McLeod Bethune receives the first major appointment of an African American woman in the federal government, director ofNegro Affairs ofthe National Youth Administration; Federal Theatre Project established (1936-39).
A nine-month Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship fails to produce anything substantial, but
Hughes's work as a playwright bears fruit with the Karamu Players in Cleveland, where Hughes's plays Little Ham and Troubled Island are produced.
1937: Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God; Pablo Picasso, Guernica; Jacob Lawrence's
Toussaint L'Ouverture series begun; Frank Whittle builds first jet engine; William H. Hastie becomes first African American federal judge; Joe Louis becomes world heavyweight boxing champion; Bessie Smith dies in an automobile accident.
Following Karamu's production of Joy to My Soul, Hughes works as a correspondent covering the Spanish Civil War for a number of African American newspapers. While in Europe, he meets
Pablo Neruda, W.H. Auden, Bertolt Brecht, and Ernest Hemingway. He addresses the Writer's
Congress in Paris in July, travels in Spain with Nicholas Guillen, and translates a number of poems by Federico Garcia Lorca.
1938: Thornton Wilder, Our Town; Richard Wright, Uncle Tom's Children; first From Spirituals to Swingconcerts at Carnegie Hall promote interest in African American music and spark a craze for boogie woogie; Billie Holiday, on loan from her regular recording company, records "Strange Fruit," a song about a Southern lynching, for Commodore; Marian Anderson receives honorary doctorate from Harvard University; Supreme Court rules that University of Missouri Law School must admit African Americans due to lack of other facilities in area; establishment of the 40 hour work week in the U.S.
Hughes founds the leftist Harlem Suitcase Theatre, which produces Don't You Want To Be Free. His pamphlet A New Song is published by the International Workers Order. On June 3, Hughes mother dies in New York. The following month Hughes addresses the International Association of Writers in Paris. In Cleveland, Karamu stages Front Porch in November, but by year's end Hughes has left for California.
1939: James Joyce, Finnegan's Wake; John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath; World War II (1939-45);
Daughters of the American Revolution prevent concert by Marian Anderson in Constitution Hall, setting the stage for her triumphant Easter Sunday concert at the Lincoln Memorial.
Hughes writes the movie script for Way Down South to help pay the bills and buy time to work on his autobiography. After addressing the Third American Writers Congress in New York in June, he settles in Carmel once again at the home of Noel Sullivan.
1940: Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls;,Ezra Pound, Cantos; Richard Wright, Native Son;
Eugene O'Neill, Long Day's Journey Into Night; Robert Hayden, Heart-Shape in the Dust; Lascaux caves with prehistoric wall paintings discovered in France; penicillin developed as a practical antibiotic by Howard Florey; troop integration ruled out for morale reasons by FDR; Benjamin O. Davis appointed as first African American general in the U.S. armed forces.
Publication of The Big Sea is eclipsed by the success of Richard Wright's novel Native Son earlier in the year. Hughes does receive some unwanted attention when picketing targeting his poem "Goodbye Christ" at a Pasadena literary luncheon influences Hughes to leave his reviewer's job for the Hollywood Theatre Alliance to retreat to the relative safety of Carmel. Hughes's subsequent public repudiation of the poem elicits attacks from the communist press.
1941: Supreme Court rules that separate railroad car facilities must be substantially equal; U.S. enters
World War II after attack on Pearl Harbor; threat of protest march by African Americans prompts FDR to issue Executive Order 8802 prohibiting discrimination in defense industries.
Hughes wins a Rosenwald Fund fellowship to support playwriting activities and leaves California for Chicago, ultimately settling in New York in December with Toy and Emerson Harper.
1942: William Faulkner, Go Down Moses; Zora Neale Hurston, Dust Tracks on a Road; Margaret Walker, For My People; Albert Camus, L'Etranger; first issue of Negro Digest published; development of the first automatic computer in the U.S.; first U.S. jet plane tested; Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) organized in Chicago.
Veering off the radical path, Hughes's Shakespeare in Harlem harks back to Hughes's oral tradition aesthetic of the 1920s in style and subject matter. The Skyloft Players stage The Sun Do Move in Chicago in April, and in August Hughes is the first invited African American writer at the Yaddo writers and artists colony, where he meets Carson McCullers, Katherine Anne Porter, and R. Nathaniel Dett. Hughes also finds time to generate material for the Office of Civil Defense in support of U.S. war activities and, more importantly, initiate his weekly "Here To Yonder" column in The Chicago Defender.
1943: T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets; Piet Mondriaan, Broadway Boogie-Woogie; first one-man show by
Jackson Pollack; Paul Robeson stars in Theatre Guild production of Othello on Broadway; Dinah
Washington, known in the 1950s as "Queen of the Juke Boxes," cuts her first records for Keynote; for the next eight years, Louis Jordan has nearly one third of all number one hit records among African Americans; George Washington Carver dies (b. 1864); race riots break out in Mobile, Beaumont, Detroit, and Harlem; zoot suits and jitterbugging gain widespread popularity.
Hughes's masterful comic creation Jesse B. Semple makes his first appearance in Hughes's Defendercolumn on February 13. "Freedom's Plow" is published by Musette, and Jim Crow's Last Stand by the Negro Publishing Society of America. Conservatives persist in harassing Hughes at his lecture appearances despite his muted (but still present) radicalism. An honorary doctorate from Lincoln University received alongside Carl Sandburg is followed by another residency at Yaddo in July.
1944: Lillian Smith, Strange Fruit; Melvin B. Tolson, Rendezvous With America; Aaron Copland,
Appalachian Spring; Supreme Court rules that "white primaries" excluding African Americans are unconstitutional; Adam Clayton Powell elected first African American congressman from the East.
Hughes's high profile participation in a nationally broadcast radio debate concerning segregation is followed by increased FBI surveillance, harassment by the House Special Committee on UnAmerican Activities, and newspaper attacks by columnist George Sokolsky. Still, Hughes manages to emcee the Fifth Annual Negro Music Festival in Chicago and visit a circuit of New York and New Jersey high schools for the Common Council of American Unity before preparing to leave on a national speaking tour that extends into 1945.
1945: George Orwell, Animal Farm; James Thurber, The Thurber Carnival; Tennessee Williams, The
Glass Menagerie; Richard Wright, Black Boy; Gwendolyn Brooks, A Street in Bronzeville; Guggenheim Museum designed by Frank Lloyd Wright; FDR dies and is succeeded by Harry Truman; U.S. drops atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki; end of World War II; "Charlie Parker's Reboppers" record for the Savoy label.
Hughes collaborates with Mercer Cook on a translation of Jacques Roumain's novel Masters of the Dew, and with Kurt Weill and Elmer Rice on a musical adaptation of Street Scene; the recording Poems By Langston Hughes appears on the Asch label.
1946: Eugene O'Neill, The Iceman Cometh; William Carlos Williams, Paterson I; Ann Petry, The Street; Mahalia Jackson does the first of her recordings for the Apollo label; Supreme Court bans segregation in interstate bus travel; Truman creates Committee on Civil Rights; first session of U.N. General Assembly held in London.
The American Academy of Arts and Sciences awards Hughes one thousand dollars in recognition of his writing contributions.
1947: Tennessee Williams, A Streetcar Named Desire; Robert Lowell, Lord Weary's Castle; Melvin B.
Tolson named Poet Laureate of Liberia; Alan Lomax tapes interview/discussion with Big Bill Broonzy,
Memphis Slim, and Sonny Boy Wil1iamson in New York City; discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls; transistor invented by scientists at the Bell Laboratories; Jackie Robinson becomes the first African
American major league baseball player in modem times; Committee on Civil Rights condemns U.S. racial injustice in "To Secure These Rights."
Despite negative reviews in December 1946, Street Scene is greeted enthusiastically upon its Broadway opening on January 9th. Following a speaking tour during which he meets former Fugitive poet John Crowe Ransom at Kenyon College, Hughes teaches a semester at Atlanta University and sees his book of poetry Fields of Wonder come into print to unimpressed reviews. At this time, Hughes also begins his collaboration with Jan Meyerowitz on an operatic treatment of his play Mulatto.
1948: Nonnan Mailer, The Naked and the Dead; Ezra Pound, Pisan Cantos; Theodore Roethke, The Lost Son and Other Poems; Dorothy West, The Living Is Easy; Alan Paton, Cry, the Beloved Country; Jackson Pollack,Composition No. I; World Council of Churches organized in Amsterdam; invention ofLP record by Peter Goldmark; Alfred C. Kinsey, Sexual Behavior in the American Male; equal treatment in the anned forces mandated by Truman in Executive Order 9981.
Attacks on Hughes as a communist continue to dog him on his speaking tours. In June, Hughes takes up residence in a townhouse in Harlem bought with proceeds from his lucrative Street Scene collaboration. The Harpers move in with Hughes, Mrs. Harper running the household and renting rooms.
1949: George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four; Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman; Gwendolyn Brooks,
Annie Allen; Truman inaugurated President.
The Poetry of the Negro 1746-1949, a collaborative effort with Arna Bontemps, his poetry collection One Way Ticket, and Cuba Libre: Poems by Nicolas Guillen, translated with Ben Frederic Carruthers, are published. In Chicago, Hughes teaches at the Laboratory School (K-12) for a semester. The City Center in New York City premieres Troubled Island, his opera written in collaboration with William Grant Still. Hughes, along with Albert Einstein, Leonard Bernstein, Arthur Miller, Paul Robeson, and others, is attacked by Life Magazine following his participation in an international conference sponsored by a Leftist organization.
1950: Gwendolyn Brooks is first African American to win Pulitzer Prize (for Annie Allen); Ralph Bunche is first African American to receive Nobel Peace Prize; emergence of anti-communist demagogue Joseph McCarthy; anti-apartheid riots in Johannesburg; outbreak of Korean War (1950-53).
The Hughes-Meyerowitz collaborative opera The Barrier opens to critical praise, though it bombs when it reaches Broadway in November. A collection of Simple sketches, Simple Speaks His Mind, is a critical and financial success. Hughes is attacked in Red Channels: The Report of the Communist Influence in Radio and Television. In Washington, D.C. in October, Hughes visits his old acquaintance Ezra Pound at S1. Elizabeth's Hospital for the Criminally Insane.
1951: J.D. Salinger, Catcher in the Rye; Benjamin Britten, Billy Budd; Igor Stravinsky, The Rake's
Progress; Ralph Bunche appointed undersecretary to the United Nations.
Hughes's volume of jazz-inflected experimental verse Montage of a Dream Deferred fails to excite reviewers. Beloit Poetry Journal publishes a chapbook number consisting of Hughes's translations of Federico Garcia Lorca's Gypsy Ballads. Hughes uses his October 6 Defender column (disclaimed by the magazine's management) to defend the beleaguered W.E.B. DuBois, who, like Hughes, was under attack by right wing forces and currently on trial.
1952: Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man; Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea; Marianne Moore,
Collected Poems; Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot; Revised Standard Version of the Bible published;
University of Tennessee admits its first African American student; according to a Tuskegee report, for the first time in seventy-one years, no lynchings occur in the U.S.
Hughes publishes the short story collection Laughing to Keep from Crying, and his children's book The First Book of Negroes initiates a period of concentration on books aimed at educating and bolstering the self-image of a children's and young adult audience. Hughes provides a lively introduction to the centenary edition of Uncle Tom's Cabin ("the most cussed and discussed book of its time").
1953: Arthur Miller, The Crucible; Charles Olson, The Maximus Poems 1~IO; Melvin B. Tolson, Libretto for the Republic of Liberia; Gwendolyn Brooks, Maud Martha; James Baldwin, Go Tell It On the Mountain; Richard Wright, The Outsider; execution of the Rosenbergs as spies; Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex; Alfred C. Kinsey, Sexual Behavior in the Human Female; segregation banned in Washington, D.C. restaurants by Supreme Court; Eisenhower inaugurated President.
On March 26, Hughes is interrogated in front of television cameras by Senator Joseph McCarthy's subcommittee on subversive activities, where Hughes admits and depreciates his radical past but avoids implicating others. Uneasily over that hurdle, Hughes's heartfelt defense of Walt Whitman appears in theDefender, and a collection of Simple sketches, Simple Takes a Wife, appears to heady reviews but disappointing sales. With anti-Communist attacks still not Subsiding, Hughes travels to Carmel to vacation at Noel Sullivan's farm.
1954: Tennessee Williams, Cat On a Hot Tin Roof; J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings; segregated schools declared unconstitutional on Brown v. Board of Education decision; B.A. Davis, Jr. becomes first African American general in the U.S. Air Force; first annual Newport Jazz Festival held; Elvis Presley cuts his first commercial sessions for Sun Records.
The Hughes-Meyerowitz oratorio Five Foolish Virgins premieres at Town Hall in Manhattan.
Two more children's books, Famous American Negroes and The First Book of Rhythms are published. Hughes becomes a judge for the short story competition of Drum: Africa's Leading
1955: James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son; Flannery O'Connor, A Good Man Is Hard to Find; Marian
Anderson debuts at the Metropolitan Opera House; Supreme Court orders school integration "with all deliberate speed"; Emmett Till kidnapped and lynched in Mississippi; Rosa Parks refuses to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama bus and triggers a 382 day-long bus boycott.
The First Book of Jazz and his collaboration with photographer Roy De Carava, Sweet Flypaper of Life, are published. At Carnegie Hall, the premiere of the Hughes-Meyerowitz Easter Cantata The Glory Around His Head receives rave reviews. Folkways releases the LPs The Glory of Negro History andRhythms of the World, with narration by Hughes. Hughes records narration for the LP The Story of Jazz. Famous Negro Music Makers published.
1956: Eugene O'Neill, A Long Day's Journey Into Night; Allen Ginsberg, Howl and Other Poems; John F. Kennedy, Profiles in Courage; Montgomery bus boycott leader Martin Luther King, Jr.'s home is bombed; turmoil over school integration spurs unrest and violence; African American artists and writers attend first international conference at the Sorbonne; "Southern Manifesto" registers opposition of 101 Southern congressmen to Supreme court ordered desegregation; Sudan becomes an independent state.
Hughes and Jobe Huntley collaborate on the gospel folk-musical Tambourines to Glory, which
Hughes also publishes as a novella. Another children's book, The First Book of the West Indies, is followed by the second volume of Hughes's autobiography, I Wonder As I Wander, and in collaboration with Milton Meltzer, A Pictorial History of the Negro in America.
1957: Jack Kerouac, On the Road; Dr. Seuss, The Cat in the Hat; Bernard Malamud, The Assistant; Leonard Bernstein, West Side Story; Southern Christian Leadership Conference organized; Ghana becomes independent state; Civil Rights Act of 1957 establishes a civil rights commission and division in the Justice Justice Department; Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus (satirized in Chales Mingus' 1959 recording "Fables of Faubus") orders the National Guard to tum away African American students from a Little Rock high school, prompting Eisenhower to send in federal troops to enforce desegregation orders.
Esther, the three act opera by Hughes and Meyerowitz, premieres at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with Hughes in attendance. A novelized version of Simple Stakes a Claim is published in May, and the musical play Simply Heavenly opens off Broadway and moves to Broadway for a brief run with blues singer-guitarist Brownie McGhee in the role of Buddy Lomax.
1958: John Barth, The End of the Road; Archibald MacLeish, J.B.; first stereo records come into use; bluesman Muddy Waters tours England and influences British musicians whose work will help feed
American blues into the pop music mainstream in the 1960s and I970s; first moon rocket launched by U.S.
Hughes reads his poetry to jazz accompaniment at the Village Vanguard in Greenwich Village and records The Weary Blues and Other Poems with instrumental accompaniment by Charles Mingus, Henry "Red" Allen, Sam "the ~an" Taylor and others. Hughes publishes The Langston Hughes Reader, his translations Selected Poems of Gabriela Mistral, the children's book Famous Negro Heroes of America, and, edited with Arna Bontemps, The Book of Negro Folklore.
1959: Robert Lowell, Life Studies; Lorraine Hansberry, A Raisin in the Sun; Paule Marshall, Brown Girl, Brownstones; Eugene Ionesco, The Rhinoceros; Gunter Grass, The Tin Drum; Newport Folk Festival influences generations of folk music performers by introducing such artists as Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Lightnin' Hopkins, John Lee Hooker, Son House, Mississippi John Hurt, Skip James, Sleepy John Estes, and others on stage over the next eight years; Miles Davis, Kind of Blue; Berry Gordy, Jr. establishes Motown Records; Fidel Castro becomes Premier of Cuba.
Selected Poems is published in MarchJo a notably condescending review from James Baldwin.
Hughes attends African Freedom Day at Carnegie Hall, and records some of his poems for the Library of Congress in May. The LP Langston Hughes Reads and Talks About His Poems is released on Spoken Arts. Clarence "Big" Miller records an LP of recordings of Hughes's blues poems, Did You Ever Hear the Blues? After writing an introduction for The Tragedy of Pudd'nhead Wilson and liner notes for a recording of spirituals sung by Harry Belafonte, Hughes travels to Trinidad to lecture, where he meets Derek Walcott and C.L.R James. Hughes helps gather books for the American Society of African Culture's "Gifts for Ghana" project (AMSAC).
1960: John Updike, Rabbit, Run; Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird; Elliott Carter, String Quartet No.2; sit-in movement initiated at Woolworth lunch counter in North Carolina; Student Non-Violent
Coordinating Committee (SNCC) organized; Civil Rights Act of 1960 passed by Congress; Belgian Congo, Zaire, Somali, Dahomey, Niger, Senegal, Mali, and numerous other sections of Africa proclaimed independent.
Hughes experiences bomb threats related to his alleged communist sympathies on a book tour. A play entitled Shakespeare in Harlem based on Hughes's work runs briefly on Broadway. In June, Hughes receives the Spingarn Medal from the NAACP. The following month Hughes writes "Goodbye Newport Blues," performed at the Newport Jazz Festival by Otis Spann with the Muddy Waters Blues Band, lamenting the uncertain future of the festival due to rioting. The First Book of Africa and An African Treasury: Articles, Essays, Stories, Poems by Black Africans are published. After the Hughes-Meyerowitz opera Port Town premieres at the Tanglewood Festival in Massachusetts, Hughes visits Nigeria, Rome, Paris (where he visits the ailing Richard Wright just before Wright's death) and London.
1961: Joseph Heller, Catch-22; Leroi Jones, Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note and Dutchman;
James Baldwin, Nobody Knows My Name; Ossie Davis, Purlie Victorious; Ornette Coleman records LP
Free Jazz; John F. Kennedy inaugurated President; Bay of Pigs affair; Berlin Wall erected; "Freedom
Riders" harassed and attacked in Alabama and Mississippi.
Hughes is inducted into the National Institute of Arts and Letters. Later he attends a luncheon at the White House for poet and President of Senegal Leopold Senghor. Ask Your Mama and The Best of Simple are published. Hughes completes the gospel musical Black Nativity (a resounding success at a Broadway_ theater and later released on LP) and the gospel play The Prodigal Son. In Lagos, Nigeria, Hughes performs at a concert sponsored by AMSAC.
1962: Edward Albee, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf; Robert Hayden, A Ballad of Remembrance; James Baldwin, Another Country; William Faulkner, The Reivers; John Glenn orbits the Earth in a spacecraft; Telstar launched; Rachel Carson, Silent Spring; Supreme Court rules that the University of Mississippi must admit James Meredith; Executive Order issued by JFK bars discrimination in federally-financed housing.
Hughes begins a weekly column for the New York Post and travels in Africa, where he meets
Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka, and Italy, where Black Nativity is greeted enthusiastically at Gian Carlo Menotti's Festival of Two Worlds. Fight For Freedom: The Story of the NAACP is published. Hughes attends the first national poetry festival at the Library of Congress, also attended by Gwendolyn Brooks, Robert Frost, Robert Lowell, and John Berryman.
1963: William Carlos Williams, Pictures From Breughel; Leroi Jones, Blues People; Martin Luther King, Jr., "Letter From Birmingham Jail"; Pop art exhibition at the Guggenheim; Medgar Evers assassinated; JFK assassinated; March on Washington culminates in a series of speeches at the Lincoln Memorial, including Martin Luther King, Jr. 's "I Have a Dream" speech.
Something In Common and Other Stories, Five Plays by Langston Hughes, and Poems From
Black Africa, Ethiopia, and Other Countries are published. An honorary doctorate from Howard
University and completion of the gospel play Jericho-Jim Crow precede vacationing and a cruise in Europe. The Theatre Guild premieres Tambourines to Glory on Broadway to negative reviews.
1964: Saul Bellow, Herzog; Robert Lowell, For the Union Dead; John Hawkes, Second Skin; Melvin B.
Tolson, Harlem Gallery; Ralph Ellison, Shadow and Act; B.B. King records classic LP Live at the Regal; Organization of Afro-American Unity founded by Malcolm X; 24th Amendment outlaws poll tax used to curtail voting by African Americans; Civil Rights Act of 1964 includes public accommodations and fair employment sections; race riots widespread; Martin Luther King, Jr. wins the Nobel Peace Prize; Cassius Clay converts to Islam and changes his name to Muhammad Ali after becoming world heavyweight boxing champion; the Beatles initiate the "British Invasion" of musical groups.
Jericho-Jim Crow opens to high acclaim at a Greenwich Village theater. Hughes is honored by the Poetry Society of America and the declaration of a "Langston Hughes Day" in Detroit. The anthology New Negro Poets: U.S.A. is published. In Europe, Hughes collaborates on an eighteen-part BBC series dealing with African Americans, takes part in the Berlin Folk Festival, and recites his poetry at the University of Hamburg.
1965: Malcolm X and Alex Haley, The Autobiography of Malcolm X; Leroi Jones, The System of Dante's Hell; John Berryman, 77 Dream Songs; Black Arts Movement initiated by Leroi Jones/AmirJ:Barakaand others in Harlem; Lyndon Baines Johnson inaugurated President; Malcolm X assassinated; march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama to protest denial of voting rights; Patricia R. Harris becomes first African American woman ambassador (to Luxembourg); LBJ signs Voting Rights Bill; U.S delivers military support to South Vietnam.
Hughes delineates his poetic aesthetic by lamenting the profanity of poetry of the Black Arts Movement while rejecting the elevation and obscurity of Modernism's heirs. Hughes revises The Poetry of the Negroto include more contemporary writing, opens his play The Prodigal Son in Greenwich Village, and offers lectures and recitations in Europe at the behest of the U.S. State Department. Hughes contributes to a television script entitled "The Strollin' Twenties," publishes Simple's Uncle Sam, and attends the premiere of Let Us Remember, a cantata written in collaboration with David Amram.
1966: Sylvia Plath, Ariel; Edward Albee, A Delicate Balance; John Barth, Giles Goat-Boy; Thomas
Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49; Indira Gandhi becomes Prime Minister of India; Dakar, Senegal hosts first world festival of African art; Stokely Carmichael named chairman of SNCC; Black Panther Party and National Organization for Women established; CORE and SNCC espouse "Black Power" concept.
Hughes's last "Simple" column appears in the Defender. After vacationing in Europe, Hughes's
The Book of Negro Humor is published and Street Scene is revived at the New York City Opera. LBJ appoints Hughes to travel to Dakar for the First World Festival of Negro Arts, where Hughes is received reverentially and speaks on the problems of (and with) contemporary African American writing. Hughes continues touring in Africa for the State Department, ending up in Paris for a brief vacation before returning to the U.S.
1967: William Styron, Confessions of Nat Turner; Haki Madhubuti, Think Black; Ishmael Reed, The
Freelance Pallbearers; Dr. Christiaan R. Barnard performs first human heart transplant; U.S. involvement in Vietnam escalates; major race riots take place in Detroit, Newark, and Chicago; LBJ nominates first Afro-American Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.
Hughes publicly registers his opposition to the Vietnam War. The Best Short Stories of Negro
Writers from 1899 to the Present and a French translation of The Best of Simple are published.
Entering the New York Polyclinic Hospital on May 6, Hughes undergoes prostate surgery on May 12 and dies of complications following surgery. At a memorial service on May 25, Randy Weston and a rhythm section perform Duke Ellington's "Do Nothing 'Til You Hear From Me" and an original blues composed by Weston. The Panther and the Lash and Black Magic: A Pictorial History of the Negro in American Entertainment (in collaboration with Milton Meltzer) are published posthumously.
|"They'll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—
I, too, am America." -- Langston Hughes
(“I Too,” 1925)