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On Langston Hughes – Black History Month Tribute to a Great Poet

via On Langston Hughes – Black History Month Tribute to a Great Poet

Melba posted a wonderful poem, Mother to Son, written by legendary African-American poet, Langston Hughes.

I used Langston Hughes’s poetry in our poetry unit each year. The metaphor of life as a staircase, sometimes smooth and other times unevern, seemed to fit junior high students. My students responded to it well.

Another aspect of including his work and Maya Angelou‘s poetry was around the issue of civil rights. In Grade 7, we read the book The Cay, by Theodore Taylor who dedicated it to Martin Luther King shortly after he was assassinated, about the relationship of a young white boy and an elderly black man to discuss what being well-educated meant. I included my mother’s line, which was “who would you rather be lost in the wilderness, someone who read about it or an indigenous person, with no schooling, who lived it?”

In Grade 8, we exoplored civil rights through the lens of heros. I let students choose, but some struggled with this choice. Knowing my students well, I introduced them to Jackie Robinson, Willie O’Ree, and Wilma Rudolph, if they were interested in sports. Others, who came from religious families, I encouraged them to consider Martin Luther King  and Mother Teresa. If they were interested in people who stood for the rights of the oppressed, but might not be considered a religious person we talked about Nelson Mandela and Mahatama Gandhi. Regardless, I found, when I tapped into who each student was, colour, ethnicity, and gender dissolved and wonderful projects emerged.

Another Hughes’s poem we read was Dream Deferred, is sprinked with questions from beginning to end:

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?

Here, is a video of the poem read by the poet.


21 responses »

  1. What a wonderful blessing for your students that you introduced them to such important writers and their powerful words. Opening minds and hearts in that way, especially at that age, is such an important gift for them and contribution to our collective awakening and evolution. Thank you, Ivon. I bow in gratitude.

  2. I was lucky to have well funded public schools, growing up. One of my English electives was Black Lit. We read a lot of Hughes, and I liked him right away. That was 1969-70, during the time of the Watts riots. There was a riot at my high school as well, several students and teachers were injured. No one was killed. No guns at schools like now. If there had been, it would have been a massacre. Still I was on the side of civil rights. We were taught to think, after all. Cheers, Ivon.

  3. I used to use this in class. I then had students think of a dream they used to have that was deferred and to figure out which of the poem’s sentiments matched their own. It became a short writing assignment. They always appreciated the assignment.

    • That is a beautiful activity. What have we set aside? Or, what have we taken-for-granted? I became a teacher later, which meant I had to meet the right person. Kathy supported me throughout, so my dream came true.

  4. Thanks for visiting my blog today (Oh, the Places We See). I was a teacher for 24 years, and Hughes was a favorite with the kids and me! Thanks for all you do to inspire and instruct. Hope to hear from you again.

  5. Reblogged this on By the Mighty Mumford and commented:

  6. beautiful so glad you shared this thank you 🙂


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