February Is Black History Month
The name Langston Hughes is forever linked to the poetic form of the blues, the Harlem Renaissance and the struggle for black liberation. Less well know is his role an "pre-mature anti-fascist" volunteer with the American Abraham Lincoln Battalion of the 15th International Brigade in Spain, organized by the Communist International to defend republican Spain. That is why he is honored in this space today. That he later distanced himself from his earlier attachment to communism, as he saw it, does not negate that when it counted he was counted in. Hughes was hardly the first, nor would he be the last, to break from his radical past. We honor that past and fight against the politics of his later turn.
This article by Langston Hughes is from the newspaper of the Abraham Lincoln Battalion in Spain
"Negroes in Spain," from The Volunteer for Liberty (1937)
In July, on the boat with me coming from New York, there was a Negro from the far West on his way to Spain as a member of the 9th Ambulance Corps of the American Medical Bureau. He was one of a dozen in his unit of American doctors, nurses, and ambulance drivers offering their services to Spanish Democracy.
When I reached Barcelona a few weeks later, in time for my first air-raid and the sound of bombs falling on a big city, on of the first people I met was a young Porto Rican of color acting as interpreter for the Loyalist troops.
A few days later in Valencia, I came across two intelligent, young colored men from the West Indies, aviators, who had come to give their services to the fight against Fascism.
ALL FIGHT FASCISM
And now, in Madrid, Spain's besieged capital, I've met wide-awake Negroes from various parts of the world -- New York, our Middle West, the French West Indies, Cuba, Africa -- some stationed here, others on leave from their battalions -- all of them here because they know that if Fascism creeps across Spain, across Europe, and then across the world, there will be no more place for intelligent young Negroes at all. In fact, no decent place for any Negroes -- because Fascism preaches the creed of Nordic supremacy and a world for whites alone.
In Spain, there is no color prejudice. Here in Madrid, heroic and bravest of cities, Madrid where the shells of Franco plow through the roof-tops at night, Madrid where you can take a street car to the trenches, this Madrid whose defense lovers of freedom and democracy all over the world have sent food and money and men -- here to this Madrid have come Negroes from all the world to offer their help.
On the opposite side of the trenches with Franco, in the company of the professional soldiers of Germany, and the illiterate troops of Italy, are the deluded and drive Moors of North Africa. An oppressed colonial people of color being used by Fascism to make a colony of Spain. And they are being used ruthlessly, without pity. Young boys, mean from the desert, old men, and even women, compose the Moorish hordes brought by the reactionaries from Africa to Europe in their attempt to crush the Spanish people.
I did not know about the Moorish women until, a few days ago I went to visit a prison hospital here in Madrid filled with wounded prisoners. There were German aviators that bombarded the peaceful village of Colmenar Viejo and machine-gunned helpless women as they fled along the road. One of these aviators spoke English. I asked him why he fired on women and children. He said he was a professional soldier who did what he was told. In another ward, there were Italians who joined the invasion of Spain because they had no jobs at home.
WHAT THEY SAID
But of all the prisoners, I was most interested in the Moors, who are my own color. Some of them, convalescent, in their white wrappings and their bandages, moved silently like dark shadows down the hall. Other lay quietly suffering in their beds. It was difficult to carry on any sort of conversation with them because they spoke little or no Spanish. But finally, we came across a small boy who had been wounded at the battle of Brunete -- he looked to be a child of ten or eleven, a bright smiling child who spoke some Spanish.
"Where did you come from?", I said.
He named a town I could not understand in Morocco.
"And how old are you?"
"Thirteen," he said.
"And how did you happen to be fighting in Spain?"
BRING MOORISH WOMEN
Then I learned from this child that Franco had brought Moorish women into Spain as well as men -- women to wash and cook for the troops.
"What happened to your mother", I said.
The child closed his eyes. "She was killed at Brunete," he answered slowly.
Thus the Moors die in Spain, men, women, and children, victims of Fascism, fighting not for freedom -- but against freedom -- under a banner that holds only terror and segregation for all the darker peoples of the earth.
A great many Negroes know better. Someday the Moors will know better, too. All the Franco's in the world cannot blow out the light of human freedom.
The Weary Blues
Droning a drowsy syncopated tune,
Rocking back and forth to a mellow croon,
I heard a Negro play.
Down on Lenox Avenue the other night
By the pale dull pallor of an old gas light
He did a lazy sway ....
He did a lazy sway ....
To the tune o' those Weary Blues.
With his ebony hands on each ivory key
He made that poor piano moan with melody.
Swaying to and fro on his rickety stool
He played that sad raggy tune like a musical fool.
Coming from a black man's soul.
In a deep song voice with a melancholy tone
I heard that Negro sing, that old piano moan--
"Ain't got nobody in all this world,
Ain't got nobody but ma self.
I's gwine to quit ma frownin'
And put ma troubles on the shelf."
Thump, thump, thump, went his foot on the floor.
He played a few chords then he sang some more--
"I got the Weary Blues
And I can't be satisfied.
Got the Weary Blues
And can't be satisfied--
I ain't happy no mo'
And I wish that I had died."
And far into the night he crooned that tune.
The stars went out and so did the moon.
The singer stopped playing and went to bed
While the Weary Blues echoed through his head.
He slept like a rock or a man that's dead.
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?
written by: Langston Hughes, sung by:Josh White
Hand me my gun, let the bugle blow loud
I’m on my way with my head up proud
One objective I’ve got in view
Is to keep ahold of freedom for me and you
That’s why I’m marching, yes, I’m marching
Marching down Freedom’s Road
Ain’t nobody gonna stop me, nobody gonna keep me
From marching down Freedom’s Road
It ought to be plain as the nose on your face
There’s room in this land for every race
Some folks think that freedom just ain’t right
Those are the very people I want to fight . . .
United we stand, divided we fall
Let’s make this land safe for one and all
I’ve got a message and you know it’s right
Black and white together, unite and fight!