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Carrie Langston Hughes

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Carrie Langston with son, Langston Hughes, in 1902.
Carrie Langston with son, Langston Hughes, in 1902.

Carolina Mercer Langston (February 22, 1873 – June 3, 1938) was an American writer, actress and mother to poet, playwright and social activist Langston Hughes.

Childhood and family background

Carolina (Carrie) Mercer Langston was the daughter of Charles Langston and Mary Leary (one of the first black women to attend Oberlin College).[1][2]

Carrie Langston's father, Charles Howard Langston, was the son of a prosperous Virginia planter and an slave woman of both American Indian and African descent.[1] An ardent abolitionist and follower of John Brown, he also served as associate editor of the Historic Times (a black community newspaper in Lawrence, Kansas), as president of the local Colored Benevolent Society, and as grandmaster of Lawrence's Black Masonic Fraternity.[3]

His brother (Carrie Langston's paternal uncle), John Mercer Langston, was a post-emancipation congressman from Virginia who later served as Minister to Haiti and Dean of Howard University's Law School.[4]

Mary Leary's first husband, Lewis Sheridan Leary, died in 1859 from injuries incurred aiding John Brown during the Harper's Ferry raid on the federal arsenal.[3] Leary's bloodied bullet-riddled death shroud, sent to Mary Leary as a sign of his death,[4] would become a significant family symbol: grandson Langston Hughes placed it in a New York City Fifth Avenue bank safe deposit box in 1928.[3]

Carrie Langston had a foster brother, Desalines (foster son to Charles); a half-sister, Loise (daughter to Mary by Lewis Sheridan Leary); and a brother, Nathaniel Turner Langston (named for the legendary slave revolt leader).[2] Nathaniel Turner Langston was born in 1870[3] and killed in a flour mill accident at age 27.[3]

Social and political significance

At fifteen, Carrie Mercer Langston was a "belle of black society" in Lawrence, Kansas. At eighteen, she was publicly reading papers she'd written and recited an original poem before the Inter-State Literary Society. She became central to Lawrence's St. Luke's Progressive Club and was elected 'Critic' by a rival society at the Warren Street Second Baptist Church.[5] In 1892, American Citizen newspaper dubbed Carrie Langston and three others as "the most beautiful girls in Kansas."[6]

As a young, single, black woman at the end of the nineteenth century, Carrie Langston wrote for The Achison Blade, a family-operated African-American newspaper published out of Achison, Kansas. In 1892, in The Achison Blade, Carrie Langston refuted what she termed, "the male notion," that females were content with their position in life. Her writing was clearly influenced by her father and his support of the 1867 women's suffrage movement in Kansas. Her words were aimed at Midwestern black men who maintained strict ideas about women's place in society. She boldly chastised in print any men who relegated women to inferior societal positions. She especially encouraged the participation of Black women in politics.[7] She spoke publicly on women in journalism,[8] addressed A.M.E. Church conventions,[9][10] and served as deputy clerk in a district court office.[11]

Personal life

Carrie Langston's first marriage was to James Hughes, a descendant of two prominent white Kentucky grandfathers and African-descendant grandmothers. Their wedding was an elopement,[2] a civil ceremony on April 30, 1899 in Guthrie, Oklahoma,[1] with neither friends nor family attending.[2] 'Shotgun wedding' rumors spread,[2] though she may have become pregnant within days of their marriage.[1] The couple moved to Joplin, Missouri where James Hughes got a job as a stenographer and Carrie Langston Hughes experienced a miscarriage. From Joplin, the couple moved to Buffalo, New York with plans to move to Cuba. Carrie Langston Hughes learned she was pregnant again; she returned to Joplin. However James Hughes, seeking to escape segregation in the U.S., moved to Mexico where he spent most of the rest of his life becoming fairly prosperous. Carrie gave birth on February 1, 1902 to James Mercer Langston Hughes in Joplin, Missouri.[1] Carrie hoped to reunite with her husband so when Langston was five years old she took him to Mexico to meet his father. While there, Mexico was struck by the historic April 14, 1907 earthquake. That event sent Carrie Langston Hughes with her son swiftly back to the States; young Langston Hughes witnessed prayer and wreckage there from his father's shoulders impacting him for the rest of his life, as evidenced in his later writing.[1]

Mother and son returned to Lawrence where she left her son to be cared for by her mother (now about seventy) while she moved to Topeka.[12] Carrie Langston Hughes returned several months later to take her son to Topeka planning to enroll him in the Harrison Street School. Harrison's principal, Eli S. Foster, demanded Langston attend the more-distant 'colored children's Washington School. Carrie Langston Hughes claimed her young son could not walk that distance daily but she still met resistance; she took her case to the Topeka Board of Education and won.[12][13] But before the end of the school year, Langston was back with his grandmother in Lawrence.[1] Almost fifty years later, in a federal lawsuit regarding the same school board, a Supreme Court decision would end school segregation in the United States.[1]

Carrie Langston Hughes called herself different names throughout her life; these names included Caroline Langston, Carolyn Hughes, Carolyn Hughes Clark sometimes spelled Clarke (referring to her having wed Homer Clark following the divorce from Langston's father), and Carrie Clark or Clarke.[3] She also lived many places with and without her son while he was growing up. As a result, Langston Hughes was raised for the most part by Carrie Langston's mother, Mary Leary, in Lawrence, Kansas[14] with his mother making occasional visits.[1]

Carrie Langston's peripatetic life was driven by job searches and boredom. The deaths of her parents (Charles Langston died in 1892;[2] Mary Leary died on April 8, 1915[3]) left her bereft of both the political privileges they had provided and the social consciousness they had instilled in her.[3] Her second husband, Homer Clark, had a son from a previous alliance named Gwyn Shannon Clark (b. September 24, 1913)[3] who accompanied Carrie Langston through most of the rest of her adult life.[3]

In March 1933, Carrie Langston's lifelong wish to be an actress of some success was fulfilled: she appeared on Broadway as Sister Susie May Hunt[15][16] in Hall Johnson's theatrical production, Run, Little Chillun.[3]

James Nathaniel Hughes, Langston Hughes's father, died on October 22, 1934 of complications from several strokes; neither Carrie Langston nor Langston Hughes were mentioned in his will.[3][17]

On May 14, 1935, in a letter to Langston Hughes who was living in Mexico, Carrie Langston wrote of "a very bad blood tumor" on her breast; on June 3, 1938, Carrie Langston died of breast cancer.[3]

Carrie Langston counted among her friends Zora Neale Hurston.[3]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Bloom, Harold (2002). Bloom's BioCritiques – Langston Hughes. Broomall, PA: Chelsea House Publishers. pp. 11. ISBN 0-7910-6186-8.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Berry, Faith (1992). Langston Hughes: Before and Beyond Harlem. New York, NY: Citadel Press. p. 8. ISBN 0-8065-1307-1.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Williams, Carmaletta M.; Tidwell, John Edgar, eds. (2013). My Dear Boy: Carrie Hughes's Letters to Langston Hughes, 1926–1938. Athens, Georgia: The University of Georgia Press. pp. xxi-25. ISBN 978-0-8203-4565-9.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  4. ^ a b Walker, Alice (2002). Langston Hughes – American Poet. New York: Harper Collins Publishers. p. 15. ISBN 0-06-021518-6.
  5. ^ Rampersand, Arnold (1986). The Life of Langston Hughes: Volume I, 1902-194. I, Too, Sing America. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 9.
  6. ^ "Miss Carrie Langston and pronouncement of the American Citizen newspaper". The Americus Greeting, Americus, Kansas. February 19, 1892.
  7. ^ Terborg-Penn, Rosalyn (1998). African American Women in the Struggle for the Vote, 1850–1920. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press. pp. 58–59. ISBN 0-253-33378-4.
  8. ^ "Afro-Americans.; News Notes of Interest to the Colored People". The Topeka Daily Capital. September 9, 1892.
  9. ^ "Sunday schools in Two States – Carrie Langston does Welcome'se Address at convention". The Chanute Times, Chanute, Kansas. June 20, 1895.
  10. ^ "Ex-slaves; A.M.E. Conference". Ottawa Weekly Republic, Ottawa, Kansas. June 24, 1897.
  11. ^ "Miss Carrie Langston appointed deputy clerk in district court office". Wilson County Sun, Neodesha, Kansas. January 18, 1895.
  12. ^ a b Rummel, Jack (2005). Langston Hughes – Poet. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers. pp. 11. ISBN 0-7910-8250-4.
  13. ^ Rhynes, Martha E. (2002). I, too, sing America: The Story of Langston Hughes. Greensboro, NC: Morgan Reynolds Publishers. pp. 15. ISBN 1-883846-89-7.
  14. ^ Als, Hilton (February 23 – March 2, 2015). "The Elusive Langston Hughes". The New Yorker.
  15. ^ "Carolyn Hughes: Broadway Productions". Internet Broadway Database. The Broadway League. Retrieved March 29, 2019.
  16. ^ "Run Little Chillun – Cast". Playbill. Retrieved March 29, 2019.
  17. ^ Williams & Tidwell 2013, p. 41
This page was last edited on 5 September 2020, at 18:46
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