On May 22, nineteen years apart two intellectually creative black giants passed away, Claude McKay and Langston Hughes. Claude McKay, a Jamaican-born poet who was a product whose works were instrumental during the beginnings of the Harlem Renaissance. Claude McKay's works were significant during the time of the New Negro Movement. It was that movement that was defined by Alain Locke, Howard University intellectual icon, in the article he wrote for Survey Magazine, The New Negro. One of Claude McKay's most famous poetic works and also one of mine as well is:
If We Must Die
If we must die, let it not be like hogs
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,
While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,
Making their mock at our accursèd lot.
If we must die, O let us nobly die,
So that our precious blood may not be shed
In vain; then even the monsters we defy
Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!
O, kinsmen! we must meet the common foe!
Though far outnumbered let us show us brave,
And for their thousand blows deal one death-blow!
What though before us lies the open grave?
Like men, we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!
On May 22, 1948, Claude McKay at the age of 58, he passed away leaving behind a vast reservoir of writings that are still relevant today. It seems that our greatest epic writers lived during the days when Harlem was the spotlight of Black American genius. On May 22, 1967, James Mercer Langston Hughes passed away at the age of 65. It is said that our most prolific black writer of all-time was Langston Hughes. Langston Hughes was also a representative of black genius during the Harlem Renaissance, he embodied almost every aspect of Locke's description of the New Negro. Both McKay and Hughes were social activists who fought vigorously against hatred directed by white supremacists during their lives. Langston Hughes was also very close to Zora Neale Hurston. They both traveled many a southern road capturing the black folk history that had been covered up more many years. Sometimes you wish for reincarnations of men like McKay and Hughes, men who could motivate many in our black communities to address and defeat the pressing issue of black illiteracy. It seemed that the farther away we get from the year 1865 when the chains of slavery were unleashed. More and more of our black communities don't seem to value the importance of being absolutely strategic readers, writers, and thinkers. This is one of Langston Hughes more powerful poems and one I really feel strongly about as well. Yes, it is as relevant today as the day Langston Hughes put his pen to a pad and created it.
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?
So please take the take to listen to the Blackman Who Reads Aloud as I read some of the works of McKay and Hughes. I have already read the collected works of Langston Hughes on the Blackman Read Aloud Hour. It is almost impossible to give due respect to these intellectual giants but I will try.