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  • Reverend James Squire

“Life For Me Ain’t Been No Chrystal Stair”

Updated: Feb 9, 2021



Langston Hughes is a poet who captures the pain and vision of the Black Lives Matter Movement. Some years ago a friend who knows my story suggested that I read Hughes’ poem, “Life For Me Ain’t No Chrystal Stair”. Hughes (1901-1987) was An American poet, social activist, and leader of the Harlem Renaissance. He had a biracial background as both great grandmothers were enslaved and both great grandfathers were white slave owners. His poetry focused on the plight of the black working class.

“Life For Me Ain’t No Crystal Stair” was a poem that he wrote after a conversation with his mother where she told him what to expect in life based on her own struggles to success.

“Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair

It had tacks in it and splinters

And boards torn up

And places with no carpet on the floor…bare

Don’t you fall now

For I’se still goin, honey.

I’se still climbin,

And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.”

I thought about it this poem from time to time in my life.

Langston Hughes wrote a poem long before President Trump’s slogan was made famous, “Make America Great Again”. It is as follows:

“Let America be America again

Let it be the dream it use to be

Let it be the pioneer on the plain

Seeking a home where he himself is free.

America was never America to me.

Some of Langston Hughes convictions and words are timely to what is happening today in the racial strife in our land.

“What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?

Or does it explode.”

“It is such a bore being always poor.”

“Hold fast to dreams

For when dreams go

Life is a barren field with snow.”

“I will not take ‘but’ for an answer.”

He captures the soul of those who struggle whether be black or white which means that he speaks of universal truths.

There is a story about Langston Hughes that may be an urban legend as I have never been able to find its source. As the story goes, he was to give a lecture and a poetry reading, but before doing so, he used the restroom. People knew his poetry but many had never seen him. A man entered the restroom and was shocked to see Hughes wiping the sink that he had used of excess water. The man asked Langston Hughes why he was doing what he was doing not knowing that it was the famous poet who was cleaning the sink. He assumed Langston Hughes was one of the janitorial staff. Hughes responded: “I always try to leave every place that I am in better than I found it.”

What would our world be like if we all followed that moral mandate?

His cleaning of the sink made even more an impression on the man who raised the question when he entered the auditorium to see the poet and recognize that the person cleaning the sink was a world- famous poet. The man learned an important lesson. Can we?

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