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Commemorating Black History: Performance brings to life the works of Langston Hughes

By Staff | Feb 14, 2020

David Mills portrays poet Langston Hughes as a poetry reading hosted by the Harpers Ferry National Park Service on Saturday. Toni Milbourne

HARPERS FERRY — Actor and writer David Mills portrayed famed African American poet Langston Hughes on Saturday as part of the Harpers Ferry National Park Service’s Black History Month presentations.

Mills, who lived in Hughes’ home for several years, was inspired by the words of the poet to create a one-person dramatic rendition of Hughes’ poems and short stories. Throughout his performance, Mills effortlessly brought Hughes’ characters to life.

Born James Mercer Langston Hughes on Feb. 1, 1902, he was also a novelist, social activist and playwright. He was best known as a leader of the Harlem Renaissance. He wrote about a period in history that was claimed to be the period “when Harlem was in vogue.”

In the 1920s, Hughes became an innovator of jazz poetry, a form of poetry incorporating syncopated rhythms, jive language and loose, improvised-like phrasing.

Hughes’ poetry and fiction is said to have portrayed the lives of working-class African Americans — lives he portrayed as full of struggle, joy, laughter and music. Through his work, Hughes confronted racial stereotypes, protested social conditions and presented an African American image that he saw during his lifetime.

Hughes had an interesting tie to Harpers Ferry, which made the poetry session noteworthy. Hughes maternal grandmother’s first husband was Lewis Leary, a follower of John Brown, who was killed in the 1859 raid. In fact, Hughes was so aware of the significance of Harpers Ferry in African American history, that he wrote the poem “October1: The Raid,” and a second poem for Storer College students.

Mills played to an audience of more than 40 members who turned out to share the experience and draw feeling from Hughes’ words.

He has worked professionally in the dramatic and literary communities for more than a decade. He is a best-selling author in his own right, with two collections of poetry, “The Dream Detective,” a small-press bestseller and “The Sudden Country,” a finalist for the Main Street Rag Prize.

Following the poetry reading and a small reception, Mills offered a poetry workshop to those who wished to learn more from the writer.