Saturday, July 21, 2012

Langston Hughes D.C. Residence (1924-26) Is on S St. NW

1749 S.St. NW c. Denise Low

Langston Hughes residence 1924-6
Langston Hughes lived in Washington, D.C. 1924-26. He lived briefly at the YMCA on 12th St., but mostly he was at 1749 S. St. NW. He came to D.C. to live with his mother and brother Kit, but he also aspired to attend Howard University. On S. St., the small family lived in two unheated, rented rooms (DC Writers). Across the street lived the parents of Charles Hamilton Houston, who would be a 1950s law professor at Howard. Hughes also visited Saturday night salons of neighbor Georgia Douglas Johnson, who lived at 1641 S. St. NW. Here Hughes was able to “discuss literature, eat cake, and drink wine” (Mills).  This building has been torn down—1631 remains (see photo). These would have been luxuries to Hughes, who was desperately poor at the time. To raise money, he held a series of odd jobs, including proof reading for the Washington Sentinel and busing tables at the Wardman Park hotel. At the segregated hotel, poet Vachel Lindsay read Hughes’s poetry and gave him his break (Cultural Tourism). Hughes began his career: “While living in DC, he published his first book of poems, The Weary Blues (1926), and wrote most of the poems that would become his second book, Fine Clothes to the Jew (1927)” (DC Writers). In his memoir The Big Sea and in the article “Our Wonderful Society, Washington (Opportunity, Aug. 1927), he describes his struggles during these years with class issues. In Lawrence and Kansas City he had a background in popular cultures of the time—blues, early jazz, oral literatures, dance. He continued to seek out arts of the common African American people while he was in Washington D.C. (Mills).
A personal note: in Lawrence, my hometown, many buildings where Hughes attended school, plays, church services, and worked are still standing. A grocery store his grandfather owned in the 1880s is still standing on the main street. See more photos in Langston Hughes in Lawrence, by Denise Low and Thomas Weso, It is a total coincidence that son Daniel Low, from Lawrence, has a house within a block of Langston’s residence, or is it?
Photos all © by Denise Low, 2012.
“Langston Hughes Residence: African American Heritage Trail.” Cultural Tourism  D.C. 1999-2012. Web.
“Langston Hughes.” DC Writers’ Homes. 2012. Web.
Fitzpatrick, Sandra and Maria R. Goodwin, The Guide to Black Washington, rev. ed. (New York: Hippocrene Books, 1999).
Freund, David M.P.  and Marya Annette McQuirter, Biographical Supplement and Index, Young Oxford History of African Americans (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997).
Mills, Paul T. “Langston Hughes.” The Black Renaissance in Washington. June 20, 2003. Web.
Gatewood, Willard B. Aristocrats of Color: The Black Elite, 1880-1920 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993), 338.
Rampersad, Arnold. Life of Langston Hughes (2 volumes from Oxford University, 1988, 1986)