Missouri and Ozarks History

Information and comments about historical people and events of Missouri, the Ozarks region, and surrounding area.

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I'm a freelance writer specializing in the history of the Ozarks and surrounding region. I've written sixteen nonfiction books, two historical novels, and numerous articles. My latest books are Wicked Women of Missouri, Yanked Into Eternity: Lynchings and Hangings in Missouri, and Show-Me Atrocities: Infamous Incidents in Missouri History.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Langston Hughes

In one of my posts a couple of months ago, I mentioned some of the famous or semi-famous people who were born in West Plains. Although West Plains seems to have produced more than its share of notables, a number of other towns throughout the Ozarks also lay claim to being the birthplace of certain individuals who went on to become well known in various fields of endeavor.
Langston Hughes, for instance, was one of several well-known people who originally hailed from Joplin. Hughes was born in 1902 in a house at the southwest corner of 16th and Missouri. Actually it was probably more like a shack, since, at the time, the nearby area was a mining field, and most of the homes in the area were hastily thrown-up shanties that the miners lived in. Hughes's father, though, wasn't a miner as such. He worked for a mining company, but he held an office job.
An older brother of Langston Hughes who died in infancy about the time Langston was born is buried at Fairview Cemetery, located on Joplin's Maiden Lane.
The Hughes family moved away from Joplin a year or so after Langston was born, about the time a black man was lynched in the town. In fact, the lynching was probably the impetus for the move, since many black families fled Joplin at that time.
In the 1970s the city of Joplin voted to rename Broadway Street after Langston Hughes, but not until after some controvery. There were those in the community who accused Hughes, based on some of his writings, of being a communist and such as that. There were also those who didn't like the proposal to rename the street Langston Hughes Boulevard, because they didn't want to abolish the old name "Broadway." A compromise was reached, and the street was renamed Langston Hughes Broadway. Today everyone, or almost everyone anyway, readily accepts the idea of having a street in Joplin named after Langston Hughes, but most locals still just call it Broadway.


Anonymous Daniel R. Baker said...

About a month ago I listened toa n old recording of Hughes reading his own poetry. It was a bit of a surprise for me; I always thought of Hughes as having a deep, Paul Robeson-like voice. In fact he had quite a high-pitched voice with a very familiar Missouri twang to it.

It was also the first time I heard his poem Stalingrad, and based on parts of it, I don't think it's deniable that he was strongly in favor of Soviet Communism, not just as a wartime expedient but for the long term. I have mixed feelings about that. On the one hand, I strongly believe that Communism was the most evil, destructive, and oppressive force in the 20th century, with the possible exception of Nazism. On the other hand, it's hard to blame a drowning man for clutching at straws. America's treatment of blacks during Hughes' time was so monstrous, and so repugnant to the country's avowed principles of liberty and equality, that I can't really blame him or other blacks for wanting to believe the Communists' promises of a fairer society, however transparently false those promises were.

December 4, 2009 at 3:19 PM  

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