Langston Hughes

“Freedom’s Plow” and the “apt little boys and girls” of Saint Alphonsus.

Last year’s Black History Month surprise was the discovery that Langston Hughes spoke at Darden High School¬†on 10 February 1949. This year’s comes courtesy of a North Carolina State University grad student, who tipped me to Hughes’ other audience that day — the children of Saint Alphonsus Catholic School.

Hughes wrote about his “little trip down South” on his regular column in the Chicago Defender. He praised the Wilson County Negro Library, its librarian, and the itinerary she devised for him. Hughes was especially charmed by the “tiny youngsters” of Saint Alphonsus, who performed his poem “Freedom’s Plow” in its entirety. (Take a peek at Freedom’s Plow if you don’t know it. Not only does it tackle weighty subjects, it is long. I add my applause for the Saint Alphonsus scholars!)

Chicago Defender, 26 February 1946.

The final stanza of “Freedom’s Plow,” which brings a word for our time:

A long time ago,
An enslaved people heading toward freedom
Made up a song:
Keep Your Hand On The Plow! Hold On!
The plow plowed a new furrow
Across the field of history.
Into that furrow the freedom seed was dropped.
From that seed a tree grew, is growing, will ever grow.
That tree is for everybody,
For all America, for all the world.
May its branches spread and shelter grow
Until all races and all peoples know its shade.
KEEP YOUR HAND ON THE PLOW! HOLD ON!

If you know anyone who attended Saint Alphonsus in 1949 and remembers Langton Hughes’ visit, please let me know!

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Langston Hughes speaks for Negro History Week.

Today marks the 118th anniversary of the birth of poet, playwright and social activist Langston Hughes. To my astonishment, shortly after he celebrated his birthday in 1949, Hughes came to Wilson to deliver a lecture in the auditorium of Darden High School. The event marked a celebration of National Negro History Week, and its proceeds went to support the Wilson Negro Library‘s bookmobile fund.

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Wilson Daily Times, 8 February 1949.

Wilson Daily Times, 9 February 1949.

Hat tip to Wilson County local historian Tammy Medlin for leading me to this story.