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Langston Hughes and American Lynching Culture

W. Jason Miller

Publication Year: 2011

Langston Hughes never knew of an America where lynching was absent from the cultural landscape. Jason Miller investigates the nearly three dozen poems written by Hughes on the subject of lynching to explore its varying effects on survivors, victims, and accomplices as they resisted, accepted, and executed this brutal form of sadistic torture.

Starting from Hughes's life as a teenager during the Red Summer of 1919 and moving through the civil rights movement that took place toward the end of Hughes's life, Miller initiates an important dialogue between America's neglected history of lynching and some of the world’s most significant poems.

This extended study of the centrality of these heinous acts to Hughes's artistic development, aesthetics, and activism represents a significant and long-overdue contribution to our understanding of the art and politics of Langston Hughes.

Published by: University Press of Florida


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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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p. vii

List of Figures

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p. ix

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pp. xi-xiv

While this project is a testament to my own growing understanding of Hughes’s poetry, it is also the result of much-needed guidance, encouragement, and refinement from many other people. I am especially grateful to Camille Roman, Professor Emeritus, Washington State University. Her editorial and...

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pp. 1-17

Langston Hughes never lived in an America where the very real threat of lynching did not exist. He died in 1967, a year before the last officially recorded lynching. Lynching had a direct impact on Hughes’s life and creative works. As Langston Hughes’s above comment reminds us, his earliest engagement with lynching...

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1. The Red Summer of 1919: Finding Reassurance

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pp. 18-40

Langston Hughes appeared before Senator Joseph McCarthy and the House Committee on Un-American Activities on Thursday, March 26, 1953, in Washington, D.C. Hughes was called to testify under the guise of establishing whether or not federal funding should continue to be used to pay for placing his poetry...

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2. The Scottsboro Case and World War II America: Poetic Anger

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pp. 41-76

There are striking overtones suggested by the images found in the original lithograph for the cover of Hughes’s 1932 edition of Scottsboro Limited. It is important to consider the images that accompany Hughes’s works carefully because they appear so frequently. In fact, more of Hughes’s poems have...

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3. Negotiating Censorship in the 1950s: Lynching as Analogy

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pp. 77-115

A black-and-white photograph taken during his testimony before the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) in March 1953 portrays a look of concern on Hughes’s face. Hughes even looks somewhat suspicious with his small, thin mustache. His black-rimmed glasses are removed, and his...

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4. Poetry as Counternarrative: Retelling History

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pp. 116-142

Because the cultural climate surrounding him in the 1950s consisted of blatant censorship and repeated accusations of communism, Hughes’s poetry deserves to be read within a framework in which he had to show discretion when speaking...

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pp. 143-150

In a historic speech delivered on March 15, 1965, President Lyndon Johnson announced to the world, “We shall overcome.” By quoting the refrain from a well-known anthem, Johnson had unequivocally linked the goals of the dominant...


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pp. 151-156


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pp. 157-162


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pp. 163-168

E-ISBN-13: 9780813043241
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813035338
Print-ISBN-10: 0813035333

Page Count: 184
Illustrations: 13 b&w photos
Publication Year: 2011

OCLC Number: 801845648
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Langston Hughes and American Lynching Culture

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Hughes, Langston, -- 1902-1967 -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • Hughes, Langston, 1902-1967 -- Political and social views.
  • Hughes, Langston, 1902-1967 -- Political activity.
  • Lynching in literature.
  • African Americans in literature.
  • Lynching -- United States -- History
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