July 12, 2010

Langston Hughes Childhood Home – Lawrence, KS

For a small city in Kansas, Lawrence has some famous residents. One such resident is famous poet, novelist, playwright, columnist and short story writer Langston Hughes.

Though Hughes is best known as one of the earliest innovators of jazz poetry and for his work during the Harlem Renaissance, the writer had some early roots in Kansas soil. After his parents divorced when he was young, Hughes was raised mostly by his maternal grandmother, Mary Patterson Langston, at 732 Alabama Street in Lawrence. It was in that house that he received his first education.

Langston inspired Hughes as an artist and also an activist. His grandmother educated him in the oral tradition of black American story telling. Hughes once said of his grandmother’s stories: "Through my grandmother’s stories life always moved, moved heroically toward an end. Nobody ever cried in my grandmother’s stories. They worked, schemed, or fought. But no crying.” (From The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes on pg.620)

She also drew from the activism experiences of her generation to inspire the young Hughes for racial change. It is said that she instilled within Hughes a duty to help his race and because of that he identified with neglected and downtrodden blacks all his life and glorified them in his work. (From "The Darker Brother" in New York Times on Oct. 12, 1986).

When Hughes was thirteen, he left Lawrence to go live with his mother Lincoln, Illinois. But in his works, it is clear he did not forget what he learned in his childhood home in Lawrence. The themes his grandmother taught him are prominent and the poem “Aunt Sues’s Stories” is a tribute to his grandmother and his Auntie Mary Reed. (Rampersad.vol.1, 1986, p.43)

While Lawrence has been proud to call Hughes one of its own and made several commemorative gestures, such as the Lawrence Hughes Elementary School, the actual childhood home of Hughes is long gone. The numbers on the homes jump from 730 to 736, with only a tree between the two seeming to signify that there used to be something else there.

Supposedly, there is a plaque to commemorate Hughes' former home but it was far too hot to look for it. When I went out searching for Hughes' home, it was over 100 degrees and climbing. I managed to find where it would have been and snap a few pictures before the searing heat forced me back into the safe air conditioning of my car. Perhaps I'll try again...when its not 100 degrees.

Travel Time: 25 minutes
Travel Distance: 9 miles
Soundtrack: "Common Reaction" Uh Huh Her


1 comment:

  1. Too bad you couldn't find it! Also, I didn't know he was from Lawrence. Pretty awesome :)