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Carrie Langston Hughes

Born: Lake View, Douglas County, Kansas, February 22, 1873. Died: Brooklyn, Kings County, New York, June 3, 1938.

An adept speaker and performer, Carrie Langston Hughes was a strong advocate for woman’s suffrage, women’s rights, and the rights of African Americans. She took leadership roles in literary and social organizations and was active with the African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) church. The mother of poet Langston Hughes, she successfully gained his admission to a segregated school.

Caroline “Carrie” Mercer Langston was born to Charles and Mary (Patterson) Langston at Lake View, Douglas County, Kansas, near Lawrence, on February 22, 1873. Charles Langston had moved from Illinois to Leavenworth, Kansas, in 1862 and worked as a schoolteacher before returning to Ohio where he married Mary Patterson. The couple moved to Kansas and settled on a farm in Lake View northwest of Lawrence near the Kansas River in 1870. The Langstons also had a son, Nathaniel Turner Langston, born in Kansas in 1870. Charles Langston was active in the Republican Party and served as an elector for Ulysses S. Grant in 1874. He supported the 1867 woman’s suffrage movement in Kansas.

Carrie graduated from Lawrence High School and followed in her father’s footsteps becoming active in numerous community organizations. She wrote for the Atchison Blade advocating for woman’s suffrage and equal women’s rights in society. She read papers and poetry she wrote for literary societies. She was active in the Saint Luke A.M.E. Church and addressed attendees at A.M.E. church conferences. She helped to organize the Inter-State Literary Association. She entered the University of Kansas in 1894. There she took a few courses while also working in the Douglas County courthouse. She was appointed deputy clerk at the courthouse in 1895.

Langston left Kansas and pursued a job in Guthrie, Oklahoma. There she married James Hughes on April 30, 1899. The couple moved to Joplin, Missouri, where James Langston Hughes, was born February 1, 1901. They separated; Hughes moved to Mexico in an effort to escape segregation. Carrie moved with young Langston to Buffalo, New York; Cleveland, Ohio; and finally, to Lawrence, Kansas; to live at her mother’s home. She found employment in Kansas City, Missouri, while her mother cared for the young boy.

Hoping to reconcile with her husband, Carrie and young Langston lived briefly in Mexico City. The earthquake of 1907 and other factors convinced her to return to Kansas. Here she found work as a stenographer with a Topeka attorney. She rented a small second-floor apartment at 115 West Fifth Street. While living in Topeka Carrie took Langston to the public library located on the grounds of the Kansas State Capitol. He grew to love the library, librarians, and the books he found there. They also enjoyed attending local plays. His grandmother took him to the Topeka civic auditorium to see Booker T. Washington speak on behalf of Topeka’s Industrial Institute, a black vocational school, in 1905.

In fall 1908 she tried to enroll her son in first grade at Harrison Street School. After Langston was denied entrance because of his race, Carrie appealed to the school board and eventually succeeded in gaining his admission. Langston faced racism from his schoolmates. The following year Carrie withdrew Langston from the school and moved him to Lawrence to live with his grandmother. While Carrie worked in Kansas City, Langston began to attend Pinckey, a segregated school for African American students. His teacher, Mamie Dillard, quickly saw Langston’s writing talent and provided encouragement, which she continued during her life.

Carrie married Homer Scott Clark in Kansas around 1915 and she helped raise his young son, Gwyn Shannon Clark. The Clarks lived in Lincoln, Illinois, near Chicago; and then to Cleveland, Ohio, where Langston graduated from Central High School in 1920. They eventually moved to Brooklyn, New York. There she performed in a theatrical production, Run, Little Chillun, in 1933. She died in New York on June 3, 1938.

Entry: Hughes, Carrie Langston

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: May 2019

Date Modified: May 2019

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.