Langston Hughes home
732 Alabama Street (demolished)
Langston Hughes statue
Elizabeth Watkins Community Museum
1047 Massachusetts Street
Poet and memoirist Langston Hughes (1902-1967) was born in Joplin, Missouri, but his earliest memories were of living at his grandmother’s house in Lawrence, Kansas, at 732 Alabama Street after his parents’ marriage fell apart. The house is no longer standing, but the one pictured here, which was just next door to his grandmother’s and possibly similar in style, is being renovated.
Hughes was one of Lawrence‘s most celebrated residents, and a bronze statue of him at the age of the age of 13 stands in the local Watkins Community Museum. Hughes spent most of his childhood in his grandmother’s simple, two-bedroom house with a wood shed and outhouse in the back, plus a pump for water. Occasionally, his grandmother rented out a room to make money, and sometimes she let the entire house, moving herself and Langston to the home of friends James and Mary Reed, who lived at 731 New York Street. Later, Langston remembered “the mortgage man…always came worrying my grandmother for the interest due.”
Langston endured a solitary boyhood in a mostly white Lawrence neighborhood; he did not play with many other children and felt his loneliness like “a dull ache.” One of his favorite pastimes was visiting the morgue at the nearby University of Kansas, where he snuck in and watched, fascinated, as students worked on cadavers. Langston attended predominantly white schools and though he rarely studied, he was always near the top of his class.
Langston’s grandmother died in 1915, and he lived briefly with the Reeds. When his mother remarried, he moved with her to Lincoln, Ill., where her new husband had secured work. It was in Lincoln, Langston later said, that he first started writing poems and was chosen class poet in eighth grade, where he was again one of only a few black students. “My classmates,” he recalled, “knowing that a poem had to have rhythm, elected me unanimously – thinking, no doubt, that I had some, being a Negro.”