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James Mercer Langston Hughes

The composers Scott Joplin, W. C. Handy, and J. Rosamond Johnson, brother of the writer James Weldon Johnson, and the poet-novelist Paul Laurence Dunbar were among the black artists who achieved prominence at the turn of the century. Numerous other musicians and writers labored more anonymously as they combined Western musical styles with rhythmic and melodic forms rooted in Africa and in slavery to create African-American jazz - a musical form that would often make its cadences heard in Hughes's poetry, with its ever-so-slightly syncopated meters, as in the 1851 'Theme for English B'.

At the end of the 19th century, ambivalence about 'unrefined' black folk culture and emerging black urban life-styles existed among longer established and more educated black residents. As these communities absorbed a stream of new migrants in the decades after Reconstruction, churches that were dominated by older residents were supplemented by less formal Baptist or Pentecostal churches that appealed to poor, sometimes illiterate, new arrivals from the rural South. Tensions were evident between the old residents, who frequently performed personal services for whites, and the new migrants, who had difficulty competing for such jobs (Wintz, 1988, p. 117).

By the early 20th century, however, many black communities had become large enough to support a minority of black professionals and businesspeople, and earlier deference to white standards among relatively successful blacks gradually gave way to an increasing sense of racial pride and social cohesion. Black fraternal orders, political organizations, social clubs, and newspapers published by blacks asserted an urban black consciousness that became the foundation for the militancy and cultural innovations of the 1920s. Hughes captured this sense of the possibility of truly black art in an article he wrote for the progressive news magazine The Nation in 1926.

It is the duty of the younger Negro artist...

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James Mercer Langston Hughes. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 07:48, September 19, 2017, from
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