Langston Hughes caught a lot of grief for this radical poem published in 1932. Get the full story on my blog:

What the hell, here's the poem itself:

Goodbye Christ
by Langston Hughes

Listen, Christ,
You did alright in your day, I reckon—
But that day’s gone now.
They ghosted you up a swell story, too,
Called it Bible—
But it’s dead now,
The popes and the preachers’ve
Made too much money from it.
They’ve sold you to too many

Kings, generals, robbers, and killers—
Even to the Tzar and the Cossacks,
Even to Rockefeller’s Church,
You ain’t no good no more.
They’ve pawned you
Till you’ve done wore out.

Christ Jesus Lord God Jehova,
Beat it on away from here now.
Make way for a new guy with no religion at all—
A real guy named
Marx Communist Lenin Peasant Stalin Worker ME—
I said, ME!

Go ahead on now,
You’re getting in the way of things, Lord.
And please take Saint Gandhi with you when you go,
And Saint Pope Pius,
And Saint Aimee McPherson,
And big black Saint Becton
Of the Consecrated Dime.
And step on the gas, Christ!

Don’t be so slow about movin?
The world is mine from now on—
And nobody’s gonna sell ME
To a king, or a general,
Or a millionaire.

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Replies to This Discussion

I don't know enough to know whether he felt isolated, or why. Remember that Langston was gay, and this alone could have caused some isolation. But he did not write like an isolated man, whereas you do get this feeling in Richard Wright, who was out ahead of the curve.
There is that metaphorical isolation. The isolation that one has to appear so enlightened, sensitive. Yet, above the status quo. So, he may have written in a non isolatory way. Yet, he had to use language that was coded, subversive etc. Instead, of saying my lover that has died, left me etc. He uses 'my friend,' his otherness of being educated creates isolation from those within the academy/intelligentsia pool as well as those who were not fortunate enought to seek education. So, regardless of his sexuality there are other forms of isolation either by one's self or from the majority...
Interesting. I'd have to read a bio to get a fix on him.
Nice! Now I want to research Langston Hughes. Thanks!
Dawahare, Anthony. 'Langston Hughes's radical poetry and the "end of race",' MELUS 23: 3, pp. 21-41. (Fall 1998).

According to the author, Hughes' radical poetry spanning the years 1932-1938 has largely been left out of anthologies and scholarly attention. Hughes himself began to repress this part of his history in 1940 in his autobiography, though it came back to haunt him in the McCarthy era. This poetry tends to be dismissed by scholars as either lacking in aesthetic qualities or "because they fail to express the 'essential identity' of the black American." [Rampersad] Furthermore, Hughes's internationalism of this period contradicts whatever image of Hughes as a nationalist people might have.

The author finds this neglect regrettable, as Hughes was one of the first American poets to challenge the ethnic nationalism that followed World War I in the USA as well as in Europe (where it engendered fascism), including the nationalist tendency of Hughes' own poetry during the Harlem Renaissance.

Nationalism and internationalism were hotly contested ideologies in the decades leading up to World War I. The internationalism of the Bolshevik revolution intensified nationalist reaction, including domestic repression in the USA. This had an effect on black intellectuals, as they were targeted by the Red Scare as well. The intensification of racism also diminished internationalism as a practical option. This situation favored the defensive strategy of black nationalism, including the notable extreme nationalism of Garvey. A Philip Randolph linked Garvey's nationalism to post-War Wilsonian nationalism. Du Bois' Pan-Africanism should also be seen in context of the spirit of the time. This mindset influenced the mindset of the artistic/literary intellectuals of the Harlem Renaissance. Black literature was seen as a natural outgrowth of the racial essence. Hughes is seen as an exemplar of what was considered to be authentic racial literature. Hughes' own manifesto, "The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain," exemplifies this racial metaphysics. The author also asserts that the Harlem Renaissance literati expressed a dampened engagement with instrumental politics, preferring the avenue of culture to effect change.

The Great Depression turned all this upside down. The emergence of the Communist Party as a substantial political force altered the prospects, and this changed situation affected Hughes as well. In 1932, Hughes wrote: "If the Communists don't awaken the Negro of the South, who will?" Though he repudiated it decades later, Hughes moved way to the left. Recognition of the multiracial character of poverty and exploitation with the massive unemployment, hunger, and homeless of the Great Depression caused Hughes to move beyond the boundaries of cultural nationalism, including his tie to his rich white patron of the 1920s. His new attitude is expressed in his poem "Advertisement for the Waldorf-Astoria" (1931). Hughes was decisively influenced by the Communist Party's militant anti-racist activism of the Comintern's Third Period commencing in 1928. The CPUSA also encouraged in a way black nationalism by defining the Negro masses, especially in the Southern Black Belt, as an oppressed nation entitled to self-determination. Hughes was more influenced by the internationalism of the Communist movement. Hughes claimed in the 1950s that he did not believe in the CPUSA's advocacy of a Negro state in the South.

In "Scottsboro Limited" (1932), Hughes offers a class-based rather than race-based interpretation of the famed Scottsboro case, in which young black men were framed up and sentenced to death for the rape of a white girl. In "Air Raid Over Harlem" (1935) Hughes calls for multiracial unity among workers. In his poem "White Man", Hughes commences by assuming a black nationalist persona but then questioning nationalism as a basis for understanding the race problem: "Is your name spelled C-A-P-I-T-A-L-I-S-T? / Are you always a White Man?" Hughes may well have been combating the propaganda of the Japanese fascists who claimed to represent the darker races, or criticizing the American black bourgeoisie. As Hughes turned toward the condemnation of fascism, he de-emphasized race as the basis of oppression, particularly since racial nationalism was being exploited by the Right.

"Let America Be America Again" (1938) embodies Popular Front rhetoric and its alternative vision of Americanism. Curiously, from 1932-1938 Hughes abandoned the black aesthetic--blues poetry, etc.--that he had developed in the 1920s. Dawahare speculates on the political motive for doing this and embracing a working class vernacular. Hughes also worked in several genres with a view to popular performance.

Parodoxically, some Communist critics saw Hughes' work of this period as too international and not national enough! The Communists were strong advocates of folk culture, per the Stalinist formula "national in form and socialist in content." The Soviet critic Lydia Filatova took Hughes to task for obliterating national boundaries and neglecting the expressive forms of the Negro nation. However, Filatova seriously underestimated the problem.

"[Langston] Hughes's attempt [1932-1938] to create a working class aesthetic with mass appeal must be construed as a utopian project, however. It points to the problem of creating a truly collective poetry of form. That now quaint cityspeak of much 1930s poetry (the versified "hey buddy, can you spare a dime" line) cannot be construed as a "universal" American working class dialect, a workers' Esperanto of sorts." [p. 37]

In other words, this construct of working class language is a spurious universal; it's not really national in form in the sense of reflecting the common language of the American nation. This lingo became national primarily as a result of the mass media and does not accurately reflect the multiform, concrete diversity of American culture. However, Dawahare admires Hughes' achievement and notes that "national" aesthetic forms can also be the vehicle for conservative content, to which Hughes' aesthetic of this period offers a countervailing vision.
Thank you Ralph for this poem. Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, and Zora Neal Hurston were my favorite authors in my teens. I never read this poem by Langston before. Never knew it existed. You are very skillful in your research. Keep up the good work. This is a treat.
I think it's often much more useful to look at people's ideas and illusions in social context rather than just to argue about them logically. For this purpose fiction is ideal, and African American fiction is one place it's been done. Richard Wright and James Baldwin are paradigmatic examples. I've written about both. See for example:

Richard Wright's "The Man Who Lived Underground": Notes for Discussion

James Baldwin Revisited (2): Go Tell It on the Mountain

“You think that's all that's in the world is jails and churches?”
—Roy Grimes to his mother, in Go Tell It On the Mountain

“Christianity has operated with an unmitigated arrogance and cruelty—necessarily, since a religion ordinarily imposes on those who have discovered the true faith the spiritual duty of liberating the infidels.”
— James Baldwin, "Letter from a Region in My Mind" (New Yorker, 17 Nov. 1962; reprinted in The Fire Next Time, 1963).




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