Where Did Langston Hughes Grow Up

Early Years

Langston Hughes was an important figure of the Harlem Renaissance and an influential African American poet. He was born in Joplin, Missouri, on February 1, 1902, though he grew up mainly in Lawrence, Kansas.Hughes’ mother, Caroline Mercer Langston, was a teacher and activist, while his father, James Nathaniel Hughes, was a lawyer. Hughes’ parents separated soon after his birth, and his mother moved with him and his younger brother to Lawrence, Kansas. His father stayed in Joplin, struggling with the abuse of drugs and alcohol.
Although Hughes had a complex childhood growing up in a single-parent household and having a notoriously troubled father figure, Lawrence was a place of serenity for him.“In Lawrence,” Hughes noted, “we weren’t allowed to do many of the things white children were. But life was definitely a lot more emotionally stable than it would have been back [in Joplin].”
During the time Hughes lived in Lawrence, the city had a thriving African American community. His mother was an active and respected member of the community who worked as a teacher and owned a small business in town. Hughes’ influence in Lawrence also extended further. His presence was continually reaffirmed in the city’s Black community as he was seen attending services at the city’s African Methodist Episcopal Church.

Influential Mother and Observation of Society

Hughes’ experiences in Lawrence were deeply influential on his writing during the following years, and the city figured prominently in his poetry. He was exposed to the works of influential African Americans such as Frederick Douglass, and read significantly on the experiences of the African American community.
An equally influential figure during his time in Lawrence was his mother, who promoted a strong sense of pride within the African American community. Eating breakfast at her house, Hughes would listen to his mother singing hymns and passing stories of the past on to him. Consequently, his mother’s experiences and accompanying sense of pride for the community of which she was a part became imbued within Hughes’s poems and writing during the later years of his life.

Observation of Segregation and Racism

Living in Lawrence also enabled Hughes to observe closely the many struggles of the African American community at the time, including segregation and the racial prejudice they encountered, as well as the growing resistance towards it. These observations and experiences are evident in his works, such as the poem ‘Mother to Son’, which speaks of an oppressed mother, trying to encourage and give hope to her son. The poem, written in 1922 and set in Lawrence, reflects Hughes’ understanding of the difficulties his community was facing.
Some of these experiences may have also been influenced by Hughes’ education. He attended public schools where he was one of the few black students. Faced with blatant segregation, a young Hughes learned of his differences in Lawrence and had to accept a sense of alienation. Despite this, Hughes flourished academically and excelled in his education.

Departure From Lawrence

In 1914, Hughes’ mother moved to Lincoln, Illinois, to take care of her elderly father and Hughes soon left Lawrence to join her. There, he worked a variety of odd jobs such as a busboy and bus conductor until he moved to Cleveland, Ohio, to live with his father in 1916. From there, he was drawn to New York’s Harlem Renaissance, and he officially left Lawrence in 1921.

Influence of Lawrence on Later Years

By the time Hughes had left Lawrence, it had already become a defining space for him and his creative works. It had exposed him to the struggles of his community, whilst at the same time enabling his autonomous growth and exploration within a supportive community.
Through his work, Hughes encouraged a sense of self-determination amidst his community and the wider public, urging them to reject any suffering felt by the harsh racism of society at the time. It is evident that for Hughes, Lawrence was a comforting and inspiring space, which enabled him to go on and create some of the most influential works of literature of his time.


Today, Lawrence remains an important space in terms of its significance to Langston Hughes’s life and work. It was in Lawrence that Hughes was exposed to the values of African-American culture, which he was able to invoke within his writings.
This is vital to the legacy of his work and his place within the literary canon. Through his literary portrayal of African-American life in the early 20th century, Hughes enabled a greater sense of understanding and appreciation for the often misunderstood and ignored group of people, having lived through and witnessed their struggles first-hand. It is this understanding of African American experience that ensured Langston Hughes’s place as an important figure of the Harlem Renaissance and a respected poet.

Life After Lawrence

After leaving Lawrence in 1921, Hughes went on to become one of the most influential figures of his time, urging African Americans to reject any sense of subservience and oppression that they were forced to endure.
Living in cities such as Harlem and Washington, D.C., Hughes continued to push for a greater sense of self-respect and freedom within the African American community, and supported civil rights activities in the later years of his life.
Having received a scholarship to study abroad in 1922, Hughes went on to Europe where he would continue to travel and explore, at times visiting places such as West Africa and even Mexico. By continuing on to live a full life, Hughes was able to develop a greater appreciation for the cultural exchange of different ethnic backgrounds and to understand more about his identity within the group of African Americans.

Career and Renown

Having returned from a period of extensive travel, Hughes began to delve more into his art and craft, writing some of the most renowned works of the 20th century and transforming the way African American literature was seen at the time. This included works such as ‘The Negro Speaks of Rivers’, ‘I, Too’, and ‘The Weary Blues’, which has since gained him the title of one of the foremost poets of the Harlem Renaissance.
In addition to his poetic works, Hughes also wrote some of the most important essays of his time, being heavily involved in the civil rights movement in the 1950s and working to champion the cause of African American freedom. His influence in this area alone enabled African Americans to further their understanding of the struggle they faced and what could be done to break free from it.

Inspirational Philosophy

It is through his writings that Hughes’s message of unity and all-inclusivity was able to be shared, helping those within the African American community to understand their own identity and importance within the world. In this sense, Hughes has become an inspirational figure for many, advocating for the belief that no group of people is inferior to another and encouraging cultural and racial integration where possible.
As one of the most influential figures of the 20th century, Hughes’ work continues to aim to inform the younger generations of their struggles and what they can do to overcome them. Most significantly, he continues to influence those within the African American community by reminding and affirming their own importance and potential within a racist and segregated world.

Dannah Hannah is an established poet and author who loves to write about the beauty and power of poetry. She has published several collections of her own works, as well as articles and reviews on poets she admires. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English, with a specialization in poetics, from the University of Toronto. Hannah was also a panelist for the 2017 Futurepoem book Poetry + Social Justice, which aimed to bring attention to activism through poetry. She lives in Toronto, Canada, where she continues to write and explore the depths of poetry and its influence on our lives.

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