Langston Hughes

James Mercer Hughes (1901 - 1967)

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James Mercer (Langston) Hughes
Born in Joplin, Missouri, USAmap
Ancestors ancestors
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Died in New York, New York, USAmap
Profile last modified | Created 27 Oct 2009 | Last significant change: 14 Nov 2018
16:00: Nicolas LaPointe edited the Biography for Langston Hughes. [Thank Nicolas for this]
This page has been accessed 8,823 times.

Categories: American Poets | Harlem Renaissance | Fiction Writers | Playwrights | Oberlin College | Joplin, Missouri | Collaborative Profile of the Week | American Notables.


Langston Hughes is Notable.

A leader of "Harlem Renaissance", Hughes was a poet, fiction writer, playwright, and columnist. A more detailed biography of Langston Hughes is available at

Langston Hughes was born on February 1, 1902, in Joplin, Missouri. So he believed and so say the available records like his passport application and the cosmogram at the Schomburg Center of the New York Public Library where Hughes' ashes rest. Recently it has been discovered through newspaper articles (Dec. 20,1901; May 17, 1901; and Jan 17,1902[1]) that he was alive prior to his suggested birth, which has now been revised by a year to February 1, 1901.[2]

He was the son of school teacher Carrie (Caroline) Mercer Langston (1872/3 - 1938) and James Nathaniel Hughes (1871–1934). Hughes's father left the family, divorced Carrie, moved to Cuba, and then to Mexico, to escape the racism prevalent in the United States.[3]

Langston Hughes grew up in Lawrence, Kansas, Lincoln, Illinois, and Cleveland, Ohio. Despite racial prejudices, poverty, and an absentee father, he discovered early in life that he wanted to write poetry and stuck to that dream. He wanted to attend Columbia University in New York. He visited his father in Mexico, and not without difficulty was able to convince his father to pay for his education.[3]

Hughes fell in love with Harlem, New York, but was not as happy with Columbia, and eventually left without finishing his degree. He worked many jobs that allowed him the time to write. He spent some time working on ships that carried cargo, and so was able to visit Africa and Europe, and spent time in Paris.[4]

He returned to the United States and lived some time in Washington, DC. During these early years many of his works were published, but in 1925, a collection of his poetry was being published by a major publisher (Alfred Knopf). At the time he was working as a busboy at the Wardman Park Hotel. Slipping three poems onto the dining table of Vachel Lindsay, a well known American poet, was a ploy by Langston to get publicity for his new book. Lindsay took the bait, read the poems at his own poetry reading and "discovered" Langston Hughes.[4]

In 1929, Hughes earned a B.A. degree from Lincoln University, in Chester County, Pennsylvania.[3] Langston never married, and he considered home to be "a tenement neighborhood in the heart of Harlem."[5].

Hughes drew his inspiration from the street sounds of Harlem. He created a "lifelong flow of warm and sensitive novels, poems, stories and plays" about African American life.[5]

Langston Hughes died on May 22, 1967, at the Polyclinic Hospital in New York where he had undergone surgery a few days before.[5]


Both of Hughes' paternal and maternal great-grandmothers were African-American, his maternal great-grandfather was white and of Scottish descent. A paternal great-grandfather was of European Jewish descent. Hughes's maternal grandmother Mary Patterson was of African-American, French, English and Native American descent. One of the first women to attend Oberlin College, she first married Lewis Sheridan Leary, also of mixed race. Lewis Sheridan Leary subsequently joined John Brown's Raid on Harper's Ferry in 1859 and died from his wounds.

In 1869 the widow Mary Patterson Leary married again, into the elite, politically active Langston family. Her second husband was Charles Henry Langston, of African American, Native American, and Euro-American ancestry.[3]


  1. These are the short newsy type: the first announced he had been ill but was recovering; the last two were his mother and he were visiting friends. Topeka Plain Dealer.
  2. Jennifer Schuessler. "Langston Hughes just Got a Year Older." New York Times. 9 Aug 2018
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Biography of Langston Hughes,,
  4. 4.0 4.1 Langston Hughes: The Harlem Renaissance By Maurice Orlando Wallace. Src: p 37 and 38
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 "Langston Hughes, Novelist, Depicted Negro Life in U.S." (Associated Press) Boston Herald. Wednesday, May 24, 1967. p. 16
  • ( Census Data: parents; grandparents) U S Census, 1880 Charlestown, Clark, Indiana: James Hughes, Self, age 50, born in Kentucky; Emma Hughes, Wife, age 43, born in Kentucky; (children all born in Indiana) Maggie Hughes, Dau, age 23; Mary Hughes, Dau., age 13; Mattie Hughes, Dau, age 11; James M Hughes, Son, age 9; Sallie Hughes, Dau, age 6; John Hughes, Son, age 2; Kittie Fields, Mother, age 69, born in Indiana.[6]
  • U S Census, 1880 Wakarusa, Douglas, Kansas: C H Langston, Self , age 63, born in Virginia; Mary S Langston, Wife, age 43, born in North Carolina; Nathaniel T Langston, Son, age 10, born in Kansas; Caroline H Langston, Daughter, age 8, born in Kansas; Joanna Simpson, Mother-in-law, age 60, born in North Carolina, [7]
  • U S Census, 1900 Galena Township Joplin city Ward 2, Jasper, Missouri: James M Hughes, Head, age 30, born July 1870, in Indiana, married 1 yr; Carrie M Hughes, Wife, age 28, born Feb. 1872 in Kansas, father born in Virginia, mother born in North Carolina[8]
  • U S Census, 1910 Lawrence Ward 1, Douglas, Kansas: Mary S Langston, Head, age 73, born in North Carolina; Langston Hughes, Grandson, age 9, born in Missouri[9]

See also:

  • Source: S-737599356 Kansas State Census Collection, 1855-1925 Publication: Operations, Inc.
  • Source: S-737633374 Repository: #R-1193790093 U.S. Passport Applications, 1795-1925 Publication: Operations, Inc.
  • Repository: R-1193790093
  • Source: S-737633426 Repository: #R-1193790093 California, Biographical Index Cards, 1781-1990 Publication: Operations, Inc.
  • Source: S-738287546 Repository: #R-1193790093 Ancestry Family Trees Publication: Online publication - Provo, UT, USA: Original data: Family Tree files submitted by Ancestry members. Ancestry Family Tree
  • Source: S-738308658 Repository: #R-1193790093 U.S., Find A Grave Index, 1600s-Current Publication: Operations, Inc.

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No known carriers of Langston's ancestors' Y-chromosome or mitochondrial DNA have taken yDNA or mtDNA tests and no close relatives have taken a 23andMe, AncestryDNA, or Family Tree DNA "Family Finder" test.

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Langston Hughes

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Langston Hughes "April Rain Song"
Langston Hughes

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On 28 Sep 2017 at 22:07 GMT Alexander (McCowan) Grimaldi wrote:

He should be listed under the LGBT category.

On 22 May 2016 at 03:33 GMT Bob Fields wrote:

Could you add as profile manager please?

On 22 May 2016 at 02:35 GMT Bob Fields wrote:

Hughes-8911 and Hughes-28 appear to represent the same person because: Same name, birth, death dates and locations. Same parents (which also need to be merged).

On 9 Apr 2015 at 03:03 GMT Robin Kabrich wrote:

Nice job, y'all, thanks for taking this on!

On 23 Feb 2015 at 04:39 GMT Anne B wrote:

Langston was writing poems and having success publishing them before he went to Washington, DC. His first book, by a major publisher (Alfred Knopf), was being published soon. Slipping three poems onto the dining table of Vachel Lindsay, a well known American poet, was a ploy by Langston to get publicity for his new book. Lindsay took the bait, read the poems at his own poetry reading and "discovered" Langston Hughes. Src: p 37 and 38 "Langston Hughes: The Harlem Renaissance."

On 17 Feb 2015 at 09:23 GMT ShiraDestinie Jones MPhil wrote:

This "Busboy and Poet" allegedly got his start (discovered by passing 3 of his poems to a poet on whose table he was waiting) in Washington, DC on U Street, NW before moving up to Harlem (much like Duke Ellington's Sycopators). Is there a hard source on this information (I am am bit biased, being from the Black Community in DC)?

Thank you all for your hard work here, Global Family!

-edit: Aha!! Thank you Anne B. -is there a nice way to work your comment into the profile? In DC I'd gotten the impression that he spent quite a bit of time there (on U Street...)

February, 12015 HE (Holocene/Human Era) ShiraDestinie

On 16 Feb 2015 at 22:16 GMT Helmut Jungschaffer wrote:

Mary Jane Patterson graduated from Oberlin College in 1862, and Oberlin had women enrolled from the beginning in 1833, therefore, it would not be entirely correct to call her one of the first women to attend Oberlin College. However, she was "probably the first African Negro woman in the world" to attain the distinction of receving an A.B. degree (Fletcher, A History of Oberlin College -- From its Foundation through the Civil War , Volume II, Oberlin, Ohio: Oberlin College, 1943, 534-535).

Addendum: This is unfortunately the result of a mix up between Langston Hughes's grandmother Mary Sampson Patterson and Mary Jane Patterson, both attending Oberlin College at roughly the same time. Mary Sampson was the ward of James Patterson of Fayetteville, NC, Mary Jane the daughter of Henry Irving Patterson of Raleigh, NC.

Langston is 18 degrees from George Bush, 23 degrees from Rick San Soucie and 20 degrees from Victoria of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland on our single family tree. Login to find your connection.

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