Historical Background of Langston Hughes’ ‘The South’

Langston Hughes is essentially an American poet of Afro-American origin. His belongingness is extremely important to understand the context of his poem – “The South”. Through his poem, Hughes has expressed his resentment towards the mentality which plagued the Southern states of America as well as his love for the landscape and ambience of the place. It depicts a kind of love and hate relationship Hughes shares with the South and it forces him and his people to seek refuge in the North. Leaving the South wasn’t an easy decision for the African American slaves as it had been their home for more than two centuries. They were forced to flee the South. Racism was rampant in North as well but it was the lesser evil of the two.

Historical Background

In the pre-twentieth Century America, the states were divided on the issue of slavery and the status of Afro-Americans. While the Northern states were in the favour of abolishing slavery, the Southern States wanted to continue the tradition of slavery. This political difference between the two regions was caused by the difference in economy. The economy of Northern states was based on modern economy i.e. Capitalism and Industrialization. On the other hand Southern States’ economy was Agrarian in nature. While the Northern States treated both Afro-Americans and Whitemen equally, the economy in Southern States was based on racism where the Afro-Americans were forced to work in field in poor conditions. Such mentality was a product of slave trade introduced in the world after European conquest of Africa. The Africans were bought and sold in the market for labor work. They were reduced to nothing but property. ‘Natally Alienated’ and ‘Socially Dead’, they were degraded to a work force that had no option but to serve their owners/masters. For generations, these slaves were treated as outsiders but as their roots grew stronger, they were recognized as Afro-Americans. However, they were yet to be recognized as citizens. Their only social position was that of property which did not possess any agency of rights.

The Southern States detested Afro-Americans and viewed them as property. The difference in treatment of Afro-Americans in the North and the South was largely responsible for the difference in perspectives. Owing to the political conflict, the two states turned against each other when the bill to abolish slavery was introduced in American Parliament. This was the immediate cause of American Civil War where the Confederate States of America clashed with the United States. The latter emerged as winners and finally slavery was abolished from the American States. However, despite the desperate efforts of the state, the mentality could not be changed for a long time. Therefore, even though the Confederate States were defeated, the people did not accept the freedom of Afro-Americans. This forced the Afro-Americans to seek refuge in the Northern States. In order to get rid of discrimination, they migrated to the Northern States from late 1800 to early 1900s. It was believed that the Northern States were a better place for the Afro-Americans since they recognized their right of freedom.

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