Today marks not only the beginning of Black History Month, but the birthday of the beloved, brilliant, prescient poet Langston Hughes, who would have been 114 today.
As with all essential writers throughout history, his words live on long past his death in 1967. In fact, so many Langston Hughes quotes, thoughts and lines from his poetry are as relevant today as they ever were.
One of the things I like to do with my kids from time to time, is read them a quote then discuss it.
It’s actually amazing how kids even as young as four or five can have some basic conversations about what might seem to be lofty topics. (Something I learned from my mother, who’s an educational educator and amazing facilitator of Socratic dialogue in the classroom.)
Here are some questions that are great to ask kids of any age when you’re discussing a quote or a full poem:
-What do you think he is saying?
-What is the lesson of this quote? What do you think he’s trying to teach us? (Younger kids can grasp the concept of “lesson” better than “theme” or “meaning.”)
-Do you agree with what he is saying?
-This quote is from a long time ago, but do you think it’s still true today? Why or why not?
– What do you think this says about how author sees or experiences the world?
-What do you think is the problem he is trying to solve?
-What are some things we can do to fix that problem?
If you’d like to honor Langston Hughes today at the start of Black History Month, this is one easy way to do it, while getting your kids involved and engaged too. So I put together some terrific Langston Hughes quotes to help get you started.
O, let America be America again / The land that never has been yet— / And yet must be— / The land where every man is free.
Like a welcome summer rain, humor may suddenly cleanse and cool the earth, the air and you.
Humor is laughing at what you haven’t got when you ought to have it.
Hold fast to dreams / For if dreams die / Life is a broken-winged bird / That cannot fly.
To my mind, it is the duty of the younger Negro artist, if he accepts any duties at all from outsiders, to change through the force of his art that old whispering ‘I want to be white,’ hidden in the aspirations of his people, to ‘Why should I want to be white? I am a Negro – and beautiful!’
Writing is like travelling. It’s wonderful to go somewhere, but you get tired of staying.
Hold fast to your dreams, for without them life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly.
An artist must be free to choose what he does, certainly, but he must also never be afraid to do what he might choose.
One of the great needs of Negro children is to have books about themselves and their lives that can help them be proud.
Negroes – Sweet and docile, Meek, humble, and kind: Beware the day – They change their mind
I swear to the Lord I still can’t see why Democracy means everybody but me.
I will not take “but” for an answer.
Perhaps the mission of an artist is to interpret beauty to people – the beauty within themselves.
What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up Like a raisin in the sun? Or does it explode?
I, too, Am America
More resources about Langston Hughes:
Langston Hughes on Biography.com
Langston Hughes on Brainpickings
Langston Hughes on Poets.org
Crash Course Literature video: Langston Hughes and the Harlem Renaissance
Smithsonian Mag: What Langston Hughes’ Powerful “I Too” Tells Us About America’s Past and Present
“I, Too” by Langston Hughes on Poetry Foundation.org
The Dedication of the African-American History Museum on Culture Type
The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes (Amazon affiliate link)
Langston Hughes Reads Langston Hughes digital download on Amazon
The Voice of Langston Hughes CD or digital download from Smithsonian Folkways
Top Image: Langston Hughes by Winold Reiss, National Portrait Gallery