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Role and importance Claude McKay and Langston Hughes

Roleand importance Claude McKay and Langston Hughes

Roleand Importance of Claude McKay and Langston Hughes

TheHarlem renaissance occurred during a period of the worsening GreatDepression and Jim Crow laws that led to racial animosity between theBlacks and Whites. Langston Hughes and Claude McKay wrote poemsduring this period of social and economic challenges. The migrationof Africans from the southern rural territories to the northernstates marked the beginning of the new African-American spirit as theoppressed and undereducated slaves gain the cosmopolitansophistication. The Africans forged a new identity. Langston Hughesand Claude McKay are among the African Americans who expanded socialand intellectual contacts to the global arena. This essay willdescribe the poets and trace the role each played during the Harlemrenaissance.

Fromthe period of his birth, Hughes struggled with the social economicconditions until his death in 1667(Subhash, 2012).In 1902, his parents divorced when he was still a baby and wasbrought up by his relatives. In his part, Claude McKay was also aninstrumental force in writing during the Harlem renaissance. Born onSeptember 15, 1890, in Jamaica, West Indies, he moved to America in1912 and published an anthology of poems Songof Jamaicagaining recognition as a poet (Idowu,&nbspandBolawale,&nbsp2014).His first outstanding poem, “if we must die” attracted attention.He moved around the world and composed poems including “HarlemShadows” in 1922 in the Soviet Union and “The Negroes” inAmerica. His poems, just like Langston Hughes portrayed economic,social and political conditions of the blacks during the HarlemRenaissance. The important role played by these two poets went beyondjust expressing the vibrancy of the African-American culture and wayof life during the 1920’s and 1930’2 Harlem Renaissance. Thepoets watched Harlem decline during the Great Depression becoming aplace of fear after the depressions and expressed their frustrationsin writing.

Hughespoem “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” came in before the HarlemRenaissance. However, the issues raised reflect the conditions duringthe period of the Renaissance. In the poem, he traces his connectionwith his ancestors taking us back to important historical andreligious sites across the world. He traces the growth of his soulsto be “deep like the rivers.” This tracing of his history is acall to the blacks to appreciate the beauty in their land and theconnection with the world. To his, despite the racial biases,Africans too have a heritage to be proud about. His description ofthe great rivers around the world is metaphorical. River Euphrates,which has connections with human civilization, serves to remind theblacks of their links with the cradle of mankind. He describes hisbath in the Euphrates, living by the Congo, and singing of theMississippi. While in America, the blacks are reduced to slaves, heobserves that Blacks too have made great accomplishments when he says“We” built the pyramids.

Inhis poem “If we must die,” McKay impresses upon the blacks toresist the whites’ dominion with courage even if it meant facingdeath(Idowu,&nbspand Bolawale,&nbsp2014).At this time, the African-Americans were desperate and this poem wasa source of inspiration to the Africans who were suffering at thehands of the whites and those experiencing tough economic conditionsof the time. He appeals to Africans to never give up when he writes&quotPressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back&quot insistingthat they may fight honorably. He visualizes death as an ultimate endbut feels it is better to choose it than the york of enslavement andmaltreatment at the hands of the whites. This is clear in line eightwhere he writes &quotshall be constrained to honor us though dead!&quot

LangstonHughes and Claude McKay are concerned about the status of the AfricanAmericans in the United States. They express the optimism of theblacks that inhuman acts such as racism and slavery are going to behistory. The poets have presented a number of grievances throughtheir work of art and achieved varied success. The greatest of theirachievement relates with their creating awareness among the Africancommunities in America to be proud of their identities. LangstonHughes was so proud of his identity and blackness was part of hismessage when uplifting the black race(Hughes,&nbspand Bryan,&nbsp2015).He writes for the African-Americans who struggled to gain an identityand advices the blacks to be proud and express their identitieswithout fear.

TheHarlem Renaissance was an opportunity where the African-Americans hada platform to express their literary abilities by contributing muchtowards music, art and poetry. Langston Hughes and Claude McKay werenot only instruments of inspiration to the black community but alsorevolutionaries who sought social changes. They literary fought forthe face of Africans in America. While McKay was more direct in hispoem, “if we must die”, Hughes took an indirect approach andsought to create African consciousness. They created optimism andpride among the African-American population who looked to them forinspiration


Hoagwood,&nbspT.(2009). Claude McKay`s HARLEM SHADOWS.&nbspTheExplicator,&nbsp68(1),51-54. doi:10.1080/00144940903423238

Hughes,&nbspL.,&amp Bryan,&nbspA. (2015).&nbspSailaway: Poems.

Idowu,&nbspA.&nbspS.,&amp Bolawale,&nbspK.&nbspM. (2014). Thematic Trends in ClaudeMckay’s Selected Poems of the Harlem Era.&nbspIJELS,&nbsp2(2),15-19. doi:10.7575/aiac.ijels.v.2n.2p.15

Subhash,M. P. (2012). Violation of human rights of the negro`s in the poemsof Langston Hughes: A critical perspective.&nbspAsiaPacific Journal of Management &amp Entrepreneurship Research,&nbsp1(1),143-147. Retrieved fromhttp://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.csu.edu.au/docview/1426262151?accountid=10344