Research Essay

Harriet Coleman

Prof. Dalton 

English 101

Research essay


Heritage images via Getty images 

          Langston Hughes, a well-known poet, social activist and novelist from Joplin Missouri and his poem” Theme for English B “written in 1951, During the Harlem renaissance and civil rights movement implies that it’s not easy for a black student to find their identity. “Theme for English B” explores the mind of a young black man who is supposed to write a paper for his English class about himself. His teacher assigns homework to the class, asking them to write a page that evening from the heart so that their writings will be authentic. However, the poem’s narrator questions whether it is really so simple. This poem was and is still significant because the issue of race and identity is still a problem, we as a society face today.  Langston Hughes used his words to express the experiences and struggles of African Americans during the Harlem Renaissance. His poetry resonated with many people and played a significant role in shaping the black identity and promoting social justice.

In this research essay I’ll be discussing how Langston Hughes affected people with his poetry, specifically black lives and how it impacted us. 

    One of the ways he did this was by giving a voice to the African American community. Racism meant that black people were silenced, knowing this Hughes used his poems to reflect the trouble of African Americans. 

According to the book “Origins of the Dream” written by W. Jason Miller Hughes inspired American activist and political philosopher Martin Luther King JR, who we all know for his “I have a dream” speech delivered in 1963, Hughes inspired him to even start speaking about dreams. Jason Miller the author of “Langston Hughes and American Lynching Culture”. A book that explores about 3 dozen poems written by Hughes and its effects on people like survivors and victims, In this book “Origins of the dream: Hughes poetry and Kings rhetoric” connects the work of Langston Hughes and Martin Luther King Jr.  

Implied by Willer, Langston Hughes’s well-known poem “Dream Deferred” (first published as “Harlem” in 1951) is actually referenced by King when he speaks of unmet expectations and broken hopes.  Willer also talked about how King actually presented his first renditions of the line “I have a dream” as a poem. Additionally, he has previously used several of Hughes’ other poems in his talks with great success. Langston Hughes had composed a poem about King in 1956. By the end of 1959, King would ask for and receive a poem from Hughes to be read at an event honoring A. Philip Randolph. Randolph was an American labor unionist and civil rights activist who founded the nation’s first major Black labor union, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP) in 1925.

 Coincidentally, this poem also addressed the theme of dreams, which King himself addressed in his remarks at the Carnegie Hall event on January 24, 1960. Not only did Hughes inspire King but he has inspired many other people. 

According to, Lorraine Hansberry was also influenced by “Dream Deferred” as well. She was an American playwright and writer and her play was the first by a female African American author to be shown on Broadway. The drama ‘A Raisin in the Sun’ , her most well-known creation, talks about  the lives of African Americans in Chicago who are subjected to racial segregation. 

“What happens to a dream deferred..Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?” are lines from Hughes poem which inspired Hansberry’s title of her famous play “ A raisin the sun’

Through his powerful poems like “Harlem” and “I, Too,” Hughes shed light on the realities of racial inequality and discrimination.  Quoting from ” Its mere 18 lines capture a series of intertwined themes about the relationship of African-Americans to the majority culture and society, themes that show Hughes’ recognition of the painful complexity of that relationship.”  Hughes celebrated the beauty and resilience of black culture, instilling a sense of pride and empowerment in his readers.

In his own words “If white people are pleased, we are glad. If they are not, it doesn’t matter. We know we are beautiful. And ugly, too…. If colored people are pleased, we are glad. If they are not, their displeasure doesn’t matter either. We build our temples for tomorrow, strong as we know how, and we stand on top of the mountain free within ourselves.”

While researching I stumbled across a biography titled “Langston Hughes: leading voice of the Harlem renaissance” and in this biography the love and admiration for Hughes was very present. In the short biography he is described as important because “he was one of the early figures to show the dignity of ordinary black life” (Von Blum,2014). 

Going deeper into Harlem (Dream Deferred) the poem raises issues regarding the goals of people and the potential fallout if those aspirations are not realized. It was writing in 1951 during

The period of Jim Crow segregation and the early period of the civil rights movement. It was impossible for many individual ambitions to come true without the bigger, shared hope of civil rights and equality. “Harlem” reflects and comments on this reality by putting both the individual and the collective experience into the poem. 

The dream in question has to do with one’s hopes and aims, the dream of people in Harlem, the speaker is implying that time is of the essence and this “dream” needs to be achieved or else it will continue to be neglected or “dry up”. 

From what I see Hughes doesn’t really want an answer to his question in the first line “ what happens to a dream deferred ? “ because he also ends it with another question “or does it explode?” making you think for yourself. 

Moving on to another one of Hughes poems… “The weary blues” is one of the poems that is considered to be Hughes best work and the book that shaped the Harlem renaissance. The poem provided an example of the power and beauty that black art could bring to the literary world. “I got the Weary Blues and I can’t be satisfied. Got the Weary Blues and can’t be satisfied. I ain’t happy no mo’ and I wish that I had died.” Are some lines of the poem to show you the Sorrowful tone it was written in. The speaker is tired of pain and being rejected by society. Black people were only beginning to find their voices and faced many obstacles that prevented them from fully expressing themselves when Hughes released it in 1925. The blues gave black people a voice; instead of discussing their issues in public, they spoke in a code that only they could understand. In The Weary Blues, Langston Hughes talks on how important it is for black people to be valued and welcomed in a society that does not value them.

Moreover, Hughes’ poetry broke down boundaries and paved the way for future generations of black artists by challenging discrimination and societal standards. His creations are still studied and valued today serving as a reminder of his influence as a writer/poet. 


Racial Discrimination and Identity Crisis: Black Americans in Select Poems of Langston Hughes.

By; B.V; Vinisha

 Origins of the dream: Hughes poetry and Kings rhetoric

By: W.Jason Miller 

The Weary Blues

by : Langston Hughes 

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