Langston Hughes Society Panel at the 2018 SAMLA Convention

Christopher Varlack Announcement
Alabama, United States
Subject Fields
African American History / Studies, Black History / Studies, Literature, Women's & Gender History / Studies, Race Studies

“Jim Crow Crumbles, Too”: Socio-Political Activism in the Works of Langston Hughes and His Contemporaries

One of the most ardent social activists and political critics of his time, Langston Hughes composed a number of articles for the African-American newspaper, the Chicago Defender, over a twenty-year span, confronting headfirst the culture of racism and discrimination in the United States, particularly with the spread of the dangerous and dehumanizing Jim Crow ideology. In a piece entitled, “Jim Crow’s Epitaph,” published on December 1, 1962, Hughes described Jim Crow as “a low dog” and “a snake in the grass of democracy” whose platform of exclusion and alienation left the nation inherently divided along racial lines. It is clear that Langston Hughes through these works and others helped lead the charge of socio-political activism during the Harlem Renaissance and beyond. 

Inspired by the thread of activism in his works, the Langston Hughes Society invites papers on the subjects of activism, marginalization, liberation, and social justice in the works of Langston Hughes and his contemporaries. Interested participants might consider, for instance, key works such as The Fire in the Flint (1924) by Walter White—a scathing critique of the American lynching tradition and the stereotyping of black men as a pervasive threat to the innocence of white women. Similarly, one might examine the work of Alice Dunbar-Nelson and Mary Church Terrell—women who fought for passing the anti-lynching bill and challenging a tradition of racial violence so devastating to the Black community.

One might consider George Schuyler’s essays on race, such as his 1944 “The Caucasian Problem” or his 1949 “Jim Crow in the North,” both of which trace the politics and history of segregation, noting how racism was not isolated to the American South but spread nationwide in its own great and troubling migration. Consider, too, works by figures such as Jessie Redmon Fauset, Wallace Thurman, Zora Neale Hurston, and others who examined issues of intra-racial social politics and the tradition of colorism that proved endemic for the black community. If James Weldon Johnson is in fact correct that “through artistic achievement the Negro has found a means of getting at the very core of the prejudice against him, by challenging the Nordic superiority complex,” then we are interested in tracing the methods, approaches, and perspectives on socio-political activism of the early- to mid-twentieth century as well as the insights those texts/authors offer for social justice movements of the present day. Note that Hughes’ contemporaries include those within the United States and abroad through the Civil Rights Movement. 

For consideration, please submit abstracts of approximately 250 to 300 words by May 30, 2018 to Dr. Wallis Baxter III (at and Dr. Christopher Allen Varlack (at Note that, in order to participate, presenters must be members of SAMLA and the Langston Hughes Society by June 8, 2018. The conference will be held at the Sheraton Birmingham in Birmingham, AL, from November 2-4, 2018.

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