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Kansas History

Langston Hughes on his racial and ethnic background

[Langston Hughes, circa 1930, from Crossing Boundaries, www.kansasheritage.org/crossingboundaries/]

Langston Hughes in his twenties, circa 1930 from Crossing Boundaries: KHC.

"You see, unfortunately, I am not black. There are lots of different kinds of blood in our family. But here in the United States, the word "Negro" is used to mean anyone who has any Negro blood at all in his veins. In Africa, the word is more pure. It means all Negro, therefore black.

I am brown. My father was a darker brown. My mother an olive-yellow. On my father's side, the white blood in his family came from a Jewish slave trader in Kentucky, Silas Cushenberry, of Clark County, who was his mother's father; and Sam Clay, a distiller of Scotch descent, living in Henry County, who was his father's father. So on my father's side both male great-grandparents were white, and Sam Clay was said to be a relative of the great statesman, Henry Clay, his contemporary.

On my mother's side, I had a paternal great-grandfather named Quarles - Captain Ralph Quarles - who was white and lived in Louisa County, Virginia, before the Civil War, and who had several colored children by a colored housekeeper, who was his slave. The Quarles traced their ancestry back to Francis Quarles, famous Jacobean poet, who wrote "A Feast for Wormes".

On my maternal grandmother's side, there was French and Indian blood. My grandmother looked like an Indian - with very long black hair. She said she could lay claim to Indian land, but that she never wanted the government (or anybody else) to give her anything. She said there had been a French trader who came down the St Lawrence, then on foot to the Carolinas, and mated with her grandmother, who was a Cherokee - so all her people were free."

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