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Maya Angelou and Langston Hughes

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Anyone who is well versed in American literature will definitely be familiar with the writings of Langston Hughes and Maya Angelou. These two twentieth century poets have surpassed all expectations and limitations society has imposed on them. Through their writing, they gave a voice to the voiceless and brought hope to the oppressed. They didn't let their humble beginnings and dire circumstances decide their fate, rather they fought relentlessly to make their dream a reality. They never shied away from their race nor did they use affirmative action to be successful. Instead they spoke boldly and confidently about their race and proved to the American people that being black doesn't make you less of a human being. Both Hughes and Angelou wanted to rid American society of its blatant racism and injustices; however their ideology and ultimate goal differed slightly. While both poets shared a mutual goal to achieve racial equality, Angelou was equally interested about ending gender inequality and empowering women.

Growing up in Joplin, Missouri Langston Hughes went through a very tough upbringing. In the course of his lifetime, segregation was the norm and racism was ubiquitous. After the separation of his parents, Hughes spent most of his adolescence with his maternal grandmother who instilled in him confidence and pride about his heritage. As a result, Hughes developed a healthy self-esteem as an African-American as evidenced in his famous poem entitled 'I, Too, Sing America'

I am the darker brother.

They send me to eat in the kitchen

When company comes,

But I laugh,

And eat well,

And grow strong.

Like all the African-Americans growing in his time, Hughes faced a lot of discrimination. After getting into Columbia University, his dream college, he left there shortly after due to racial prejudice. All those experiences fueled his passion to fulfill his longtime dream which was to abolish racism or at least bring it to a point in society where people are no longer judged by the color of their skin. He phrased it beautifully in his poem, entitled 'I Dream A World'

A world I dream where black or white,

Whatever race you be,

Will share the bounties of the earth

And every man is free,

As I read through Hughes' poetry collections, there is this recurring theme that emerges in most of his poems which brings hope to the readers that things will soon change for the better. That change he was referring to is identical to Martin Luther King's dream. Throughout Hughes's life, he was never involved in any women's right movement or intended to empower women through his writing even though women suffered severe injustice in his time. Not that he didn't care about women, it just wasn't his main concern at that time. Rather his primary goal was geared toward achieving freedom in America so people's race could not dictate their fate. He wrote a heartfelt piece about this objective in his poem entitled 'Let America be America Again'

O, let America be America again--

The land that never has been yet--

And yet must be--the land where every man is free

Maya Angelou was as zealous and enthusiastic about that dream as anyone else. As a civil right activist, Angelou has worked with Malcolm X to help build his Organization of African American Unity. Then Later on, she worked with Martin Luther King as a Northern Coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. She sacrificed her time and invested a lot in herself in the civil rights movement. What differentiates Maya Angelou from Langston Hughes is the fervent desire she had not only to bring freedom to men but also freedom to women who were being unjustly treated by the system. In her renowned poem, entitled 'A Brave and Startling Truth' she says:

When we come to it

We, this people, on this wayward, floating body

Created on this earth, of this earth

Have the power to fashion for this earth

A climate where every man and every woman

Can live freely without sanctimonious piety

As you can see in this poem, she specifically mentions 'every man and every woman' to emphasize to her audience that she's seeking freedom for both men and women alike. She also uses her writing as a medium to empower women especially African-American women. In her beloved poem Phenomenal Woman, which is highly praised among feminist, she says:

Men themselves have wondered

What they see in me.

They try so much

But they can't touch

My inner mystery.

When I try to show them

They say they still can't see.

I say,

It's in the arch of my back,

The sun of my smile,

The ride of my breasts,

The grace of my style.

I'm a woman


Phenomenal woman,

That's me.

Her poems have become an anthem for all women all over the world. Millions of women from across the globe have used her poetry to find encouragement, inspiration and motivation. One of her most popular poems is entitled 'Still I Rise'. The message conveyed in this poem is that no matter what challenges and obstacles that stand in her way, she will overcome them and still rise. Here are a few lines from the poem:

Does my haughtiness offend you?

Don't you take it awful hard

'Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines

Diggin' in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,

You may cut me with your eyes,

You may kill me with your hatefulness,

But still, like air, I'll rise.

In conclusion, as demonstrated throughout this essay, Maya Angelou and Langston Hughes have a lot in common. They are both African American poets who have expressed strong disdain towards racial prejudice. They used the resources at their disposal to combat racism in America. Through their works and efforts, many people were persuaded to join the noble movement that sought to bring equality to everyone regardless of their ethnicity or color. While they had so much in common, their perception of change was a bit different. Hughes' vision for America was a place where people of different races can live together peacefully without being judged based on their race but by the content of their character. Meanwhile, Angelou had the same dream except that she felt as strongly about empowering women and making sure they also were treated fairly. In this man-dominated world we live in, Angelou as an independent women herself has seen the effect of sexism in her own life. Even today, she still attends women's conferences where she continues to inspire them and encourage governmental officials to modify laws that are unfair to women. Hughes and Angelou have contributed a lot in society and their legacy will live on forever.

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