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Four Poems from Langston Hughes's Spanish Civil War Verse

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 October 2020

Extract

Langston Hughes traveled to Spain in 1937, during that Country's Civil War. He saw the Republic's Fight against Franco as an international fight against fascism, racism, and colonialism and for the rights of workers and minorities. Throughout the 1930s, Hughes organized for justice, at home and abroad, often engaging with communist and other left political organizations, like the Communist Party USA's John Reed Club, the League of Struggle for Negro Rights, and the International Workers' Order (Rampersad, Life 236, 286, 355; Scott). When the war in Spain began, in 1936, workers and intellectuals who were engaged on the left came from around the world to fight against Franco's forces; these volunteers, the International Brigades, included approximately 2,800 Americans known as the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, of which about ninety were African American (Carroll vii; “African Americans”). Hughes went to Spain to interview black antifascist volunteers in the International Brigades and write about their experiences for the Baltimore Afro-American, VolunteerforLiberty, and other publications. Much of Hughes's writing from Spain sought to explain to people at home why men and women, and African diasporic people especially, had risked their lives to fight in Spain. Hughes profiled African Americans fighting for the first time alongside white comrades in the International Brigades, including Ralph Thornton, Thaddeus Battle, and Milton Herndon (“Pittsburgh Soldier Hero,” “Howard Man,” “Milt Herndon”). In addition to writing articles, he wrote poetry, gave radio speeches, and translated poems and plays from Spanish into English. Much of Hughes's work from the Spanish Civil War has been collected in anthologies. However, so prolific was Hughes, and so fastidious was he in saving drafts and ensuring they reach his collection at Yale University's Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, that many unpublished works exist in archives. The four poems here represent different poetic registers and levels of polish, and they illuminate the dynamic range of Hughes's literary production during his time in Spain.

Type
Little-Known Documents
Copyright
Copyright © Modern Language Association of America, 2019

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References

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