American Heritage Essay

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Justin Galley Professor L. Pennington English 1301 26 June 2012 A Celebration of African American Heritage “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” is one of Langston Hughes best poems because it is a musical celebration of African American culture and heritage. The poem was written at the beginning of the Harlem Renaissance, the most important literary and arts movement during post-slavery. The best and brightest intellectuals, entrepreneurs, and artists settled in Harlem. Jazz music, African American fine arts, African American literature were absorbed into the Harlem culture. The Harlem Renaissance was a time in which many Africa Americans struggled with their identity as a freed person and asked the question: Who am I? “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” provides the African American people with a profound answer: African American people have a rich heritage and culture that spans from the creation of mankind up to the Harlem Renaissance. “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” was written when Hughes was on a train to meet his father. Hughes was deeply troubled about two issues. The first issue was that his father, who was a Negro of mixed blood, disliked Negroes. Arnold Rampersad, the author of a critical essay on “The Negro Speaks of Rivers”, states that Hughes had the following recollection: “All day on the train, I had been thinking about my father and his strange dislike of his own people. I didn’t understand it, because I was a Negro, and I liked Negroes very much.” The second issue was that America looked upon the freed Negro as uncivilized and without roots. Hughes said in his autobiography, “The Big Sea: An Autobiography”, that he saw the Mississippi River and remembered what it ‘had meant to Negroes in the past’. Hughes stated that he then thought about rivers in African American’s past: Conger, Niger, and the Nile. Hughes then wrote the poem “The Negro Speaks of
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