Langston Hughes

Bob Dylan

James Langston Hughes (1902-1967) was born in Joplin, Missouri, graduated from high school in Cleveland, and published his first poem at age 18. He attended Columbia College and later won the Witter Bynner undergraduate poetry award and a scholarship to Lincoln University. In 1926 he published his first book of poetry, Weary Blues. He spent time as a writer in the Soviet Union in 1932 and covered the Spanish Civil War in 1937 for the Baltimore Afro American. He wrote many books on black history and blacks in American society. While a journalist for the Chicago Defender and the New York Post, he created the character of Jesse B. Semple, and developed that character into a Broadway play, Simply Heavenly in 1957. In all, his literary career spanned over forty-five years.

Hughes wrote two poems about Emmett Till. The first, “Mississippi—1955,” was included in his October 1, 1955 column in the Chicago Defender, “Langston Hughes Wonders Why No Lynchings Probes.” According to Metress (293-294), the poem as originally published was not transcribed correctly by the paper’s editors, and the errors were perpetuated in later reprints. The version that follows, as it appears in Metress (294) is the original as penned by Hughes.

The second poem, “Money Mississippi Blues,” remained unpublished until it appeared in the Metress volume (295, 296-298). and was written by Hughes with music by Jobe Huntley. According to letters reproduced in Metress (295-296), the song was written with the intent to help raise funds for the NAACP. According to Metress. “There is no record of the song ever being produced, and unfortunately musical notations were not included with Hughes’s letter” (295)

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Mississippi—1955 (1955)

(To the Memory of Emmett Till)

Oh what sorrow!
oh, what pity!
Oh, what pain
That tears and blood
Should mix like rain
And terror come again
To Mississippi.

Come again?
Where has terror been?
On vacation? Up North?
In some other section
Of the nation,
Lying low, unpublicized?
Masked—with only
Jaundiced eyes
Showing through the mask?

Oh, what sorrow,
Pity, pain,
That tears and blood
Should mix like rain
In Mississippi!
And terror, fetid hot,
Yet clammy cold
Remain.

******

The Money Mississippi Blues (1955)

Lyrics by Langston Hughes; Music by Jobe Huntley

I don’t want to go to Money, honey,
not Money, Mississippi!
no, I wouldn’t go to Money, honey,
down in Mississippi.
There’s pity, sorrow, and pain

in Money, Mississippi.
Tears and blood like rain
in Money, Mississippi,
in Money, Mississippi!

His father died for democracy
fighting in the army over the sea.
His father died for the U. S. A.
Why did they treat his son this a-way?
in Money, Money, Mississippi,
Money, Mississippi.

His mother worked to raise her child,
dressed him neat, kept him from running wild.
She sent him to the country when vacation came,
but he never got back to Chicago the same.
They sent him back in a wooden box----
from Money, Money, Mississippi,
Money, Mississippi.

Like old boy, just fourteen years old,
shot, kicked, and beaten ‘cause he was so bold
to whistle at a woman who was white.
He was throwed in the river in the dead of night
In Money, Money, Mississippi,
Money, Mississippi.

I don’t want to go to Money, honey,
not Money, Mississippi.
No, I wouldn’t want to go to Money, honey,
down in Mississippi.
There’s pity, sorrow, and pain
in Money, Mississippi!
Tears and blood like rain
in Money, Mississippi,
in Money, Mississippi!

No, I wouldn’t want to go—
for no kind o’ Money—
to Money, Mississippi,
not Money, Mississippi!

Money, Mississippi!

(Blues guitar accompaniment)
 

Emmett Till