The students had already chosen all of their other graduating class officers with relative ease, but the eighth graders slammed into an awkward silence when pressed to nominate a candidate for their last vote of the day: Class Poet.
Some may have been wondering how the older students they were copying at the high-school decided. Some may have wondered about a common stereotype their teacher reminded them of that said people with darker skin had a naturally better sense of rhythm.
Finally, one broke the silence, stood up shyly and nominated the only dark boy in class. The vote was unanimous: Langston Hughes became a poet.
American Poetry as World Literature
Music and concepts of identity were associated with Hughes from that 1916 election that set him on a long and illustrious career as a poet. A few years later, the roaring 20s ushered the Harlem Renaissance and with it a sense of self-identity.
Some in the black community accused this commercial identity of not taking a serious interest in jazz and its roots in the blues. They believed the music could identify with a more radical coming of age for blacks in an America still dominated by white supremacy and segregated long after Reconstruction.
But that same, serious interest in the music helped do away instead with any such attempts institutionalize segregation — Hughes made blues and jazz music more accessible to people around the world, thus forming a more perfect union through what many now identify as the gold standard of American poetry.
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