For Langston | Shatter This Darkness…Into a Thousand Lights of Sun

Today would have been Langston Hughes’ 118th birthday. Some of my Hughes books are in my [work] office; others are unfortunately buried in one of my many unpacked boxes, so I didn’t have the pleasure of revisiting my precious books and slowly inhaling the pages.

Like so many other Black poets, I fell in love with Langston Hughes through the books on my older siblings’ bookshelves. I took a course focusing on Hughes in graduate school and was sorely disappointed by the instructor’s style. He was knowledgeable but not an effective facilitator. He missed Hughes’ brilliance in his focus on the “celebrity” and ambiguity of Hughes.

I accidentally shot the “abstract” photo this morning while finishing up a letter to a friend. It pairs well with the closing lines of Hughes’ poem, “As I Grew Older.”

It was a long time ago.
I have almost forgotten my dream.
But it was there then,
In front of me,
Bright like a sun—
My dream.
And then the wall rose,
Rose slowly,
Slowly,
Between me and my dream.
Rose until it touched the sky—
The wall.
Shadow.
I am black.
I lie down in the shadow.
No longer the light of my dream before me,
Above me.
Only the thick wall.
Only the shadow.
My hands!
My dark hands!
Break through the wall!
Find my dream!
Help me to shatter this darkness,
To smash this night,
To break this shadow
Into a thousand lights of sun,
Into a thousand whirling dreams
Of sun!

–Langston Hughes, “As I Grew Older”

Many read this poem and see disillusionment. The speaker of the poem dismisses the idealism and replaces it with the realization that in America his Blackness stands as a barrier to his dream. However, there is hope here too…He has “almost forgotten” the dream, but he recognizes that thick walls of racism can be breached, toppled even, by his dark hands.

Moreover…

Dark hands united with other hands can “shatter the darkness…into a thousand whirling dreams of sun.”

A “New” Definition of Greatness: A Heart Full of Grace, A Soul Generated by Love

Jesus gave us a new norm for greatness. If you want to be important, wonderful. If you want to be recognized, wonderful. If you want to be great, wonderful. But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. That’s a new definition of greatness.

And this morning, the thing that I like about it: by giving that definition of greatness, it means that everybody can be great, because everybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don’t have to know Einstein’s theory of relativity to serve. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love. And you can be that servant.

Martin Luther King, Jr., “The Drum Major Instinct,” Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta, Georgia, February 4, 1968 [Based on Mark 10:35-43]


About the image: The image above features the pulpit from which Martin Luther King, Jr. preached and led a movement.  The passionate “How Long?  Not Long” speech was also delivered from this lectern on the steps of the Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery at the conclusion of the famous Selma to Montgomery March. The pulpit now rests in the basement of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. I had the privilege of placing my hand on this pulpit during a research trip with other educators a couple of summers ago.

Ernest J. Gaines | The Artist and the Heart Surgeon

Ernest Gaines, San Francisco, California, March 13, 1975. Photograph from Black Writers. Photograph Credit: Jill Krementz. Postcard from my collection.

Without love for my fellow man and respect for nature, to me, life is an obscenity. –Ernest Gaines (January 15, 1933 – November 5, 2019)

I had a different blog post planned for today. but then I learned Ernest J. Gaines, my favorite Louisiana author, passed away today.

I’m pretty sure that Gaines was the first African American writer with whom I came in contact–through one of his earliest works, Miss Jane Pittman.  Much later, as a young professor, I began to include his A Lesson Before Dying on the reading list for my composition courses. After reading A Gathering of Old Men, my hubby was hooked. Gaines became his favorite author.

I don’t normally swoon when I meet “celebrities,” but I gushed when I met him at the Short Story Conference in New Orleans some years later–he was personable, wise, humble. I squealed when one of my colleagues gave me an autographed portrait of Gaines for my birthday one year.

I’m saddened over the loss of another elder, another critical voice in the American literary scene, but I am grateful for his life and works, his bringing to the fore the complications of personhood, race, life, and love in rural Louisiana.

Yesterday, I shared some brilliant first lines, but today I’m sharing literary wisdom from some of Gaines’ works:

Ain’t we all been hurt by slavery?  —The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman

I think it’s God that makes people care for people, Jefferson. I think it’s God makes children play and people sing. I believe it’s God that brings loved ones together. I believe it’s God that makes trees bud and food grow out of the earth.  —A Lesson Before Dying

How do people come up with a date and a time to take life from another man? Who made them God?  —A Lesson Before Dying

Sometimes you got to hurt something to help something. Sometimes you have to plow under one thing in order for something else to grow.  —A Gathering of Old Men

The artist must be like a heart surgeon. He must approach something with sympathy, but with a sort of coldness and work and work until he finds some kind of perfection in his work. You can’t have blood splashing all over the place. Things must be done very cleanly.  —Conversations with Ernest J. Gaines

If you haven’t read any of his fiction before, I encourage you to add Gaines to your reading list. Click here for a list and overview of his novels: Gaines’ novels.

To hear Gaines talk about books, writing, and his own story, be sure to watch “Conversation with Ernest J. Gaines” produced by the National Endowment for the Arts:

Rest in Peace, Dr. Gaines.

Sunset: Stillness and Dreams

“Sunrise” by Lisa C.

Out of Sunset’s Red
William Stanley Braithwaite

Out of the sunset’s red
Into the blushing sea,
The winds of day drop dead
And dreams come home to me. —
The sea is still,— and apart
Is a stillness in my heart.

The night comes up the beach,
The dark steals over all,
Though silence has no speech
I hear the sea-dreams call
To my heart; — and in reply
It answers with a sigh.


About the Image: Today’s post features a photo by my Love Notes friend, Lisa C of Chasing the Sun. Lisa shoots gorgeous sunrises and sunsets as evident in this photo. This is a sunrise photo, but for some reason it makes me think of  William Stanley Braithwaite’s poem [above]. You can read a few more of his poems here: Poems by Braithwaite.

NaBloPoMo Note: November is National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo) and I’ve been figuring out how to squeeze in daily posting with all the general madness of end-of-semester and my “more serious” writing projects. I need the daily moment away from the madness, so for the fourth year in a row, I’m in! Besides, my “to be blogged” bin overflows and NaBloPoMo will [hopefully] give me a chance to empty it a bit. Most posts will be “short and sweet,” but I plan to be here every day, so I hope you’ll check in every now and then and cheer me on! 🙂

#ThursdayTreeLove | You’ve Got a Place Here Too

A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin, and culture is like a tree without roots. –Marcus Garvey

It rained so much during the last two weeks that my heart sang whenever the rain ceased or the sun brightened the skies–even if for only a few moments. As always, I took every opportunity to note the trees.

For some reason I was most drawn to the interaction of the trees: Trees touching. Bare trees mingling with half-dressed trees. Signs of spring and winter in one shot.

I enjoyed witnessing the elements of nature conspiring to push us toward certain awakening.

I read Nikki Giovanni’s poem, “BLK History Month,” earlier today, and I realized how often we use trees to underscore the importance of Black history and presence. And since the final #ThursdayTreeLove of the month falls on the last day of Black History Month (BHM) this year,  I’m ending with Giovanni’s poem, which uses a tree [?] analogy to challenge the argument that BHM is not needed.

“BLK History Month”
If Black History Month is not
viable then wind does not
carry the seeds and drop them
on fertile ground
rain does not
dampen the land
and encourage the seeds
to root
sun does not
warm the earth
and kiss the seedlings
and tell them plain:
You’re As Good As Anybody Else
You’ve Got A Place Here, Too
Nikki Giovanni, from Quilting the Black-Eyed Pea

I am joining Parul Thakur for #ThursdayTreeLove every second and fourth Thursday of the month. If you would like to play along, post a picture of a tree on your blog and link it back to her latest #treelove post.

Walk with Truth

Children, who made your skin white? Was it not God? Who made mine black? Was it not the same God? Am I to blame, therefore, because my skin is black? …. Does not God love colored children as well as white children? And did not the same Savior die to save the one as well as the other? –Sojourner Truth

I chuckled to myself when I realized the reason for today’s Google Doodle. Initially, I wondered why Sojourner Truth. Did the google gods discover today is her birthday? Then, it occurred to me today is the first day of Black History Month (BHM).

Why the chuckle? Because it’s predictable.

Sojourner Truth–like Martin Luther King, Jr., Frederick Douglass, and Harriet Tubman–is almost always brought up when discussing anything related to Black history.

Do I mind? Not really.

I like Sojourner Truth. I like her moxie. I love how she stood up for herself when the odds were most certainly against her. There are a lot of amazing lessons in her life.

Today, I opened class by talking briefly with my first-year students about not allowing themselves to  be so focused on the mountain in the distance that they render themselves incapable of taking the tiny day-to-day steps that make conquering the mountain achievable.

I wish I’d thought to weave some of Sojourner Truth’s life into that brief talk.

Sojourner Truth didn’t look at the mountains in front of her and freeze with fear or run in the opposite direction. She didn’t see the obstacles of her skin color, her gender, or her status as enslaved person as barriers to conquering the insurmountable. As a result, among many other “unlikely” accomplishments, she won a lawsuit against her former “owner” who sold her son into slavery after the State of New York had declared slavery illegal. And while we haven’t quite figured out whether Sojourner Truth said “Ain’t I a woman?” or “Ar’n’t I a woman?” in her famous speech at the 1851 Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio, the reality is even if she never said a single word, the fact that she showed up to a party she wasn’t invited to and insisted on her Black presence and humanity says enough for me.

She literally walked the path to freedom in her own truth and with a righteous insistence on her own humanness. As long as she held on to the essential value of her personhood, no racial or gender mountain could stand in the way of her truth.


The art above is part of the “Celebrating Women” banners that were on display at The Lower Eastside Girls Club’s Celebrate Cafe in New York City when I visited several years ago. If I remember correctly, each piece of art added to the banner was created by a young woman who was involved in the Club.

If you want to know more about Sojourner Truth, click any of the links above, particularly the Google link.