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Harlem Residents Celebrate Langston Hughes' Birthday


HOST, DESIREE NIKFARDJAM:   It’s the first day of Black History Month. It’s also the 123rd birthday of Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes, and, as Samuel Eli Shepherd reports, New Yorkers are celebrating. 

SAMUEL ELI SHEPHERD: Lady Alvesite is standing outside the Apollo Theater. She’s a tour guide. She has just finished leading a group through Harlem, discussing historic Black Americans [beat] like Langston Hughes. She says she knows him well. 


LADY ALVESITE: That’s my neighbor. You can go check him out. If you haven’t seen the photograph of him Google Langston Hughes, he’s standing on a brownstone, that brownstone’s on my block 127th Street and 5th Avenue.

SHEPHERD: Hughes lived on that block for two decades until 1967. A plaque on his old home says that the neighborhood became his literary inspiration for poems like “Harlem.” It’s about the elusiveness of the American dream for Black people. The poem asks, “What happens to a dream deffered?” 

SHEPHERD: Lady Alvesite loves Hughe’s work, so much so that she plans to celebrate the late poet’s birthday:

ALVESITE: Well, I’m going to the jazz museum they’re gonna do something and then afterwards the Knicks are playing the Pacers so that’s the biggest thing on my mind today.


SHEPHERD: But ten blocks away, the Schomburg Center For Research and Black Culture, is celebrating in a big way. Here’s Novella Ford, the curator of a new exhibit focusing on an unexplored side of Hughes…

NOVELLA FORD: As a mentor, a collaborator, a champion of Black cultural producers.

NARRATOR: The exhibit uses archival material including letters and photos, to show how Langston Hughes paved the way for other Black artist trailblazers, including photojournalist Griff Davis.

FORD: They are two Black men who met when Griff Davis was a student at Atlanta University and Langston Hughes was a visiting professor. And so Griff Davis has his own story to tell, right? He was the editor of Ebony Magazine he spent thirty-five years working for the government mostly based internationally as a international correspondent and a diplomat, right?

SHEPHERD: Back at the Apollo Theater, tour guide Lady Alvesite was delighted to learn about the Schomburg Center’s new exhibit.

ALVESITE: That’s where he’s laid to rest. He’s literally inside of the Schomburg. 

SHEPHERD: She’s referring to an installation in the Schomburg Center called “Rivers,” commissioned after Hughes’ death. Hughes’ ashes are underneath it.

ALVESITE: So if they’re doing something else special on top of that, by all means, I’ll make sure I’m a big part of that, and I’ll make sure tourists go as well.

SHEPHERD: The Ways of Langston Hughes: Griff Davis and Black Artists in the Making is a free exhibit on from now until July 8th at the Schomburg Center for Research and Black Culture in Harlem. 

ALVESITE: Because that’s the heartbeat, that’s the pulse, the Black mecca of America: Harlem.

SHEPHERD: Samuel Eli Shepherd, Columbia Radio News


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