Langston Hughes was born 100 years ago today. The author, essayist, poet and newspaper columnist visited North Carolina a few times in his career including a trip to Chapel Hill which he later wrote about in an essay called “Color in Chapel Hill.”
There are several accounts of his visit, the most extensive in this post by the folks at the Southern Historical Colllection, where we learn that Hughes visit later came back to haunt Frank Porter Graham during Graham’s run for the U.S. Senate:
The publication of the Scottsboro issue of Contempo was timed to appear several days before Hughes was to visit Chapel Hill for a public reading. Citizens of the town of Chapel Hill were incensed. UNC President Frank Porter Graham and Chapel Hill town officials received a flood of letters denouncing Hughes as “sacrilegious” and calling for his engagement to be canceled (to put it softly). Graham did not interfere and the reading went on as planned.
The NC Collection blog also had this tidbit:
Hughes spoke before a full crowd on campus and later dined at a local restaurant with a group of white students, only learning later that he had been the first African American to eat in the dining room of a downtown restaurant. Chapel Hill restaurants would not be formally integrated until the passage of the federal Civil Rights Act in 1964.